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

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.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Marriage vs. Living Together: What's the Difference?

(Monroe County)

In this week's Time magazine there's a little article citing the benefits of marriage over living together. 

"More People Think It's Fine for Unwed Couples to Live Together. Here's Why Many Still Think Marriage Is Better."

Here are the points.

  • Two-thirds of the married individuals trusted their partners to tell them the truth; only half of the unmarried did. 
  • About three-quarters of married folks trusted their partner to act in their best interest; fewer than 60% of the unmarried felt the same way. 
  • And while 56% of married partners believed their partners could be trusted to handle money responsibly, only 40% of cohabiters felt the same way.
  • Married couples were more satisfied with the way their partners handled most of the usual couple chafing points: parenting, chores, work-life balance and communication.
  • Research suggests that the commonly expressed view that people should live together to test the relationship is ill-founded. Over seven published studies, we’ve found that living together before you’re engaged is just riskier.
  • If it’s commitment you’re looking for, being married is a pair of hiking boots and living together is a pair of stilettos. Both can get you where you want to be, but only one is designed with that in mind.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How Can Jesus Be the Only Way?

If You Really Want to Know Jesus...


I'm a follower of Jesus. Since 1970.

When I got rescued by Jesus I experienced a great desire to know my Rescuer. I began to study Jesus. 

I have read and studied the Text over and over. One of my doctoral qualifying exams at Northwestern University was in ancient Christology. I have a library of books on Jesus. At Redeemer I and others preached through the four Gospels - it took seven years. Seven years of deep, focused, Jesus studying and experiencing!

I have a "Che Jesus" t-shirt. Here it is.



I wore this t-shirt a few times when teaching my philosophy classes at Monroe County Community College. One professor saw me, and told another professor, "Piippo is wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt." The other professor corrected him. "Piippo is actually wearing a Jesus t-shirt."

The Real Jesus is, among other things, a temple-cleansing, idol-smashing revolutionary.

A leader is one who has followers. Therefore, Jesus is the greatest leader in all human history.

I have been on a Real-Jesus-knowing rampage for almost fifty years. Do you want to know him, too?

Dallas Willard writes:

"If you really want to know Christ now, you have somehow to set aside the cloud of images and impressions that rule the popular as well as the academic mind, Christian and non-Christian alike. You must try to think of him as an actual human being in a peculiar human context who actually has had the real historical effects he did, up to the present. You have to take him out of the category of religious artifacts and holy holograms that dominate presentations of him in the modern world and see him as a man among men, who moved human history as none other. You must not begin with all of the religious paraphernalia that has gathered around him or with the idea that his greatness must be an illusion generated by an overlay from superstitious and ambitious people—mainly that “shyster” Paul—who wanted to achieve power for their own purposes. 

Just look at his teaching and his influence for what it has been through the ages—there is really no secret about that—and be clear-minded and fair in your estimate of what kind of person could have brought such teachings and influence upon human life." (Willard, Knowing Christ Today, p. 67)

Monday, November 18, 2019

Silence Before God Is Different Than Entertainment In the Church (The Presence-Driven Church)

Button bush, Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio




"Silence is the discipline that helps us go beyond the entertainment quality of our lives."

Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing, p. 49

Years ago I taught a course on prayer in the D. Min. program at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. One of my students was an African American leader and pastor in Chicago, named Joe. I remember the first day of class. When the students arrived we did a few introductions. Then I sent them out to pray for an hour, using Psalm 23 as their meditative focus.


When they returned from class I asked, "How was that for you?" Joe was crying. He said, "I haven't prayed for an hour in 20 years."


Jump ahead four years. I'm teaching the same class, in the same place. When the D.Min. students arrived, there was Joe. I asked, "What are you doing here? You've already taken this class!"


Joe said, "I wanted to take it a second time. There is still so much for me to learn."


Joe is the only student who has taken my class twice. I asked how he was doing, and how his church was going. Joe shared this. 


"After that class four years ago I went back to my people and preached on a Sunday morning on Psalm 46:10 - 'Be still, and know that I am God.'"


"What happened?" I asked.


"I simply read the verse, then sat down. There was silence for 40 minutes. Finally, one person stood up and spoke a word from God. Then another did the same. We just stayed there, silently, in the thick presence of God. Gradually, one by one, people began to leave."


"How was it, Joe?"


"It was... electric!"


Wow! Joe has a hopping, dynamic church. What a radical idea God gave him. This story confirmed a number of things I believe about pastoral ministry, and the nature of the church.



  1. This kingdom of God is about God's presence, in which God rules and reigns.
  2. Therefore, desire God's presence.
  3. Dismiss the idea that we need to entertain our people, that what they need is more entertainment so they'll stay with us.
  4. What our people most need is God.
  5. Cultivate a Presence-Driven environment that moves with and responds to God's presence.
  6. Usher people into God's presence. Here is where the "audience" dissolves, and engagement with God begins.

***
My first two books are...

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

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

How God Changes the Human Heart: A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Congratulations to Connie Goncin on Her First Book!

Journey to Eden: From the Pit to the Palace by [Goncin, Connie]

Connie Goncin, who is part of our Redeemer family, has published her first book. Congratulations Connie!

It's called Journey to Eden: From the Pit to the Palace. It's Connie's testimony of how God rescued her out of darkness and brought her into God's beautiful kingdom.

I've heard Connie give her testimony before. It's compelling and moving. I'm thankful she has now captured her story in her book.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Should We Worry About the Sexual Behavior of Others?

(Holland State Park - Michigan)

Someone reacted to my blog post on homosexuality, shellfish, and wearing garments with two types of fabrics. They wrote: "Are we not yet at a point where we can just worry about our own sex lives, and let others worry about theirs?"

I wrote back and told them this comment was irrelevant to my blog post. It's a red herring.

But, I've heard this before, so now I'll address it.

This is a bad idea. We should hope we never get to that point, lest we enter the world of the handmaid's tale, which is very, very worried about the sexual behavior of others.

Let's call "worry," as used here, moral concern. And, if you are religious, call it also spiritual concern.

If we just let others worry about their own sex lives, and just worry about our own sex lives, and presumably not interfere in the sexual choices of other people, and not call some behaviors morally wrong, then we close our eyes to people who like to traffic women for sex and money, to people who like to rape children, to people who like engaging in incestual sexual relations, to people who like have multiple marital partners, to sexual harassment, to marriage-breaking adulterous affairs, and more. Even the atheist Richard Dawkins worries about this. (See here.)

Take polygamy. It's illegal in all fifty states. Apparently, we've not left polygamists to worry about fulfilling their desire to have multiple marital partners.

Take rape. Some people like to rape. Why not leave rapists alone to worry about their own sexual lives, and just worry about our own sexual lives?

Why not let Roman Catholic priests rape innocent children? Apparently they like doing this, after all. Why worry about their sexual behavior?

Why not forget about the Harvey Weinsteins and Jeffrey Epsteins of the world? They enjoyed their sexual behaviors. Who are we to stop their fun? Perhaps we should just mind our own business and leave them alone.

A civil state should care deeply about the sexual behavior of people. You should worry if your child's teacher is a sexual predator. You should get involved. 

To engage in the discussion is important. It's deep, involving religious, philosophical, and legal issues. It has to do with worldviews that are deep structures within every human being, while being almost entirely unexamined. Perhaps, contrary to Socrates, the unexamined life is worth living when it comes to sex? 

Responding to Same-Sex Marriage: A Very Brief Bibliography

University of Michigan

I am against the legalization of same-sex marriage for two reasons, one religious, the other non-religious (sociological and legal).

As regards the religious reason, I do not expect non-religious people to agree with me. Of course not. Just as I don't turn to their irreligious worldview to make sense of anything, neither do I expect them to partner with me. That's the way worldviews work. Everyone has one. They do not, at significant points, overlap.

If the non-religious person objects to my religious views, they question my worldview, not my reasoning. The irreligious person is a non-player in the intra-religious and intra-Christian dialogue.

Regarding non-religious reasons, here is where the irreligious and religious can join in principled (we would hope) dialogue, rather than ad hominem stereotyping (sadly, some on both sides do this.). We can dialogue without name-calling, right?

These are a few of the resources I have read.

The Intra-Worldview Discussion

Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, by Dan O. Via and Robert Gagnon

The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, by Robert Gagnon. This is probably the book to read, within this worldview and from this perspective.. 

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, by Wesley Hill.

God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, by Matthew Vines.

Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding with Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality, by Michael Brown.

See my friend Phillip Lee's website His Way Out Ministries

Legal and Philosophical Reasoning on Same-Sex Marriage

Why Marriage Matters, Third Edition: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences, by Bradford Wilcox. 

Debating Same-Sex Marriage, by John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher.

The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, and Morals, eds. Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain.  

What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense, by Sherif Gergis, Robert P. George, and Ran T. Anderson (forthcoming Oct. 16, 2012) 

I contacted Robert George re. this issue and he graciously sent me the following links. He's also gracciously offered to field questions I have,

From Prof. George:

For a fuller account of my own views, here is the link to a more recent paper I wrote with two of my former students. (It is a free one-click download.)
“What is Marriage?” by Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson, in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy:   http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1722155

Kenji Yoshino of NYU published a critique on Slate, to which there is a link in our reply, available here:  http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/12/2217

Andrew Koppelman of Northwestern published a critique on Balkinization, to which there is a link in our reply, available here:  http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/12/2263

Barry Deutsch published a critique on the Family Scholars Blog, to which there is a link in our reply, available here: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/12/2277

Kenji Yoshino published a response to our reply, to which there is a link in our reply to that response, available here: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/01/2295

Andrew Koppelman published a response to our reply, to which there is a link in our reply to that response, available here: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/01/2350

Also, here is an essay in two parts (written with Patrick Lee and Gerard V. Bradley) on the link between procreation and marriage – a link we believe is badly misunderstood by many on both sides of the debate. Here are the links:

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/03/2638 “Marriage and Procreation: The Intrinsic Link”

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/03/2637 “Marriage and Procreation: Avoiding Bad
Arguments”

Prof. George also sent me:

The Good of Marriage and the Morality of Sexual Relations: some Philosophical and Historical Observations, by John Finnis.

Marriage: A Basic and Exigent Good, John Finnis.

I'm working on second post.

My Views of Marriage Remain Unaffected by Ad Populum Reasoning

(Flowers, in our green room)
(I'm keeping this ball in play, refusing to bow before the thought police and their irrelevant ad populum fallacies.)

I still believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. Many people in the world still believe as I do. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by this. (See here, e.g.)

I have encountered no reason to believe otherwise. (Ad populum reasoning [opinion polls] are irrelevant in the establishment of true beliefs. Also, I'm not a utilitarian in ethics, which holds that right and wrong do not exist. I find Americans to be unexmined quasi-utilitarians, until they run into an objective moral value, in which case they switch to Kantian ethics, and sometimes even irreligious divine command theory.)

In this, I sometimes feel like the man in this quote from G. K. Chesterton.


A man with a definite belief always appears bizarre, 
because he does not change with the world; 
he has climbed into a fixed star 
and the earth whizzes below him like a zoetrope. 
Millions of mild black coated men call themselves 
sane and sensible merely because 
they always catch the fashionable insanity, 
because they are hurried into madness after madness 
by the maelstrom of the world.


If you disagree with me, does this mean I hate you? Of course not. (See here.)

If I love you, does this mean I affirm all your beliefs? Of course not. (See here.)

Is civil discourse on the meaning of marriage possible? Of course. (See here.)

To enter the discussion here are some resources I am familiar with. (Note how cordial Maggie Gallagher and John Corvino are towards each other.)

***
If God leads you to support what I am doing you may donate to our church's general fund by going here. Thank you!


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Homosexuality: What About Shellfish? Or Wearing Garments with Two Kinds of Fabrics?

(Ann Arbor)

This post is only for those who hold the Judeo-Christian Scriptures as authoritative. 

Someone recently presented this argument to me. I've heard it before. It's time to present the other, more biblically accurate, side. Because the argument relies on a misuse of the Bible, while appealing to its authority.

The argument goes like this.

"The prohibition against homosexual practice in ancient Israel was part of the ceremonial, Levitical law, which also prohibited things such as eating shellfish and pork or wearing a garment made of two kinds of fabrics. Obviously, those laws no longer apply to us today." (From Michael Brown, Can You Be Gay and Christian?: Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality, p. 106.)

Michael Brown's response is:

"There were some laws that God gave to Israel to keep them separated from the nations, such as the dietary laws, while other laws were based on universal moral prohibitions that applied to all people, such as laws against murder, adultery, and homosexual practice. These universal moral prohibitions obviously apply to all believers today, while the dietary laws do not." (Ib.)

Brown, who has a PhD in ancient Semitic languages from New York University, and who is arguably one of our greatest Messianic scholars, details this position in Chapter 5: "Levitical Laws and the Meaning of To'Evah (Abomination)."

When I first heard the "shellfish and mixed garments argument," I thought, "Something is wrong with this?" It struck me as hermeneutically naive. If you are going to use this argument in the same-sex discussion, please study it in more depth. Read Brown (and others, like *Robert Gagnon) on this. (It's interesting how these arguments float around in the minds of people who have never studied them, yet are used to support their position. I've done it. I give you permission to let this argument go.)

The prohibition against homosexuality was a universal prohibition. For example, the laws concerning murder are universal, for all people, and not just for Israel. Brown writes:

"How do we know this? It’s simple. The Bible tells us—just to give one example—that God judged Israel for eating unclean animals, but the Bible never tells us that God judged the nations of the world for eating unclean animals. Why? Because it was not intrinsically sinful to eat a pig rather than a cow (although in the ancient world, in particular, it might have been a lot more unhealthy to eat a pig), but it was intrinsically sinful to commit other sins, such as murdering another human being. 
That’s why laws against murder were established by God for all humanity after Noah’s flood, according to Genesis 9:6, whereas God permitted the human race to eat all animals for food (v. 3), as long as the blood was drained. In the same way, the Lord rebuked foreign nations for their sins against one another—acts of murder and violence—because these were wrong for all people, but, as stated, He did not rebuke them for eating animals that were considered unclean for the Israelites. This also carries over to the New Testament, where the authors reiterate God’s universal moral code—laws against murder and adultery, for example—while making clear that food in and of itself doesn’t defile us or make us holy. 

So, to repeat and summarize: there were laws God gave to Israel alone, and there were laws God gave to all people, including Israel, and for the most part, using the entire Bible as our guide, it is easy to see which are which." (Ib., 114)

What about wearing clothes with mixed fabrics? Brown writes:

"God never said that He judged the nations of the world for eating unclean animals or sowing their fields with two different kinds of seeds or wearing garments with mixed fabrics. Nor did He say that the land vomited them out for doing these things. But He did say that about the sins listed in Leviticus 18, including homosexual practice." (Pp. 115-116)

At this point I should just quote Brown's entire chapter. Don't make the shellfish.mixed garments argument any more without reading this.

***
* See Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, especially Chapter 1, "The Witness of the Old Testament." New Testament scholar J├╝rgen Becker calls Gagnon's book "the most sophisticated and convincing examination of the biblical data for our time."

For example:

"Lev 18:22 occurs in a larger context of forbidden sexual relations that primarily outlaws incest (18:6-18) and also prohibits adultery (18:20), child sacrifice (18:21), and bestiality (18:23). These prohibitions continue to have universal validity in contemporary society. Only the prohibition against having sexual intercourse with a woman "in her menstrual uncleanness" (18:19) does not." 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Influence Comes Before Numbers; Abiding Comes Before Fruit-Bearing



Image result for john piippo tree
Trees in my back yard
Reading Eugene Peterson's The Pastor: A Memoir solidified in me an idea I have had for many years. Which is: as a pastor and Jesus-follower, I am to desire influence, rather than size in terms of numbers of people. I don't think it is important how big a church is. I think it is important how influential a church is. Influence, not size, is what really matters.  

Focus on being faithful, rather than “successful.” The word “success” is mostly metricized in the American Church. Data-ized. (See, for a cool spin on this, We Are Data: Algorithms and the Making of Our Digital Selves.) Quantized. Super-sized. (For support see Francis Chan, Letters to the Church; and Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel, The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb. Both books ask “What if the American Church got this wrong"; both answer, echoing Eugene Peterson and other prophets, “It has.”)

By "influence" I mean the kind of things Jesus talked about when he used 
metaphors like "salt" and "yeast." "You are the salt of the earth," Jesus said (Matthew 5:13). A little bit of salt can flavor a lot of food. What's needed are salty Jesus-followers, not rows of unsalted food. Salt influences food, rather than being influenced by it. Salt is active, not passive. I am to influence the world, rather than being influenced by it.

Non-salty "Christians" are, in Jesus' eyes, "no longer good for anything, 
except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot." (Matthew 5:13)

Jesus-followers are to influence and salt the earth, which mostly takes place outside the walls of the church building.

I now think of my philosophy students. For most of them, "church" flavors nothing about their lives. They can't taste "church" at all. I attribute this to a lack of influence. Most have never encountered church (because church is something to be encountered, not attended). Most think “church” is a building that houses religious programs and performances.

How many people are in my church? Wrong question! Instead, ask, How salty is my church? Is it influential, as regards Jesus and the Kingdom? Focus on influence, by disciple-making. You could be twelve salty Jesus-followers and change culture.

Be influenced by Christ. Such influence flows from the Vine to the branch 
as one continuously abides in Christ. The focus is not on numbers, but staying connected to Jesus. This results in a daily being-influenced by him. Focus on being connected. Pastors – live the abiding life, and show your people how to do this.

Focus on abiding, not on producing fruit.

The core prayer of a Jesus-following pastor is not, “God, supersize us!” It is, “God, super-use us.” At this point numbers do not matter. My understanding of church history is that cultures, communities, and even nations that began to follow Jesus did so as a result of what God was doing in a small number of Christ-abiding, salty people.

***
My two books are:

Friday, November 08, 2019

The Trouble with People Who are Not Like Me


(My back yard)


In the days of my greater immaturity I sang in a college choir. I am a baritone, and I can hold a tune. I can stay on pitch. But X, who sang in the baritone section next to me, could not.
I grew to despise him for this. 

Not only was X tone deaf, he could sing louder than anyone in the choir. X's tone deafness overwhelmed the rest of us. He was an eighth of a tone flat, all the time. Just slightly off pitch. To be slightly off pitch in a choir, and loudly so, is a great sin, for it works to drag everyone else down to its atonal level.

To make matters worse, X always had a smile on his face. I can see his broad smile now, fifty years later. X was upbeat, chipper, as he miserably bellowed. This angered me even more. 
X did not see how this was affecting me. My only relief was to share my grief with others, to spread my pain far and wide. I was everyone, and everyone talked about X. "X is ruining our choir." "X can't sing." "Just what does X think he is doing?" "X makes my life miserable."

"My life would be better if X were not in my life."

But that last statement, of course, is false. And immature. My trouble with X brought out my trouble with me. I, not X (or Y or Z or...), am my greatest problem. Unless I come to see the truth of that, I will be forever miserable.

C.S. Lewis, in a beautiful little piece called "The Trouble with X," wrote:

"Even if you became a millionaire, your husband would still be a bully, or your wife would still nag, or your son would still drink, or you'd still have to have your mother-in-law live with you.

It is a great step forward to realize that this is so; to face up to the fact that even if all external things went right, real happiness would still depend on the character of the people you have to live with--and that you can't alter their characters. And now comes the point. When you have seen this you have, for the first time, had a glimpse of what it must be like for God. For of course, this is (in one way) just what God Himself is up against. He has provided a rich, beautiful world for people to live in. He has given them intelligence to show them how it ought to be used. He has contrived that the things they need for their biological life (food, drink, rest, sleep, exercise) should be positively delightful to them. And, having done all this, He then sees all His plans spoiled--just as our little plans are spoiled--by the crookedness of the people themselves. All the things He has given them to be happy with they turn into occasions for quarreling and jealousy, and excess and hoarding, and tomfoolery..." (C.S. Lewis, "The Trouble with X")

But God's view is different from my view, or from your view. "He sees one more person of the same kind--the one you never do see. I mean, of course, yourself. That is the next great step in wisdom--to realize that you also are just that sort of person. You also have a fatal flaw in your character. All the hopes and plans of others have again and again shipwrecked on your character just as your hopes and plans have shipwrecked on theirs."

God sees me. To God, I am X. And surely, I am X to some people. "It is important to realize that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives others the same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don't know about."

There is a second way God is different from me. I don't love X, but God does. God "loves the people in spite of their faults. He goes on loving. He does not let go. Don't say, "It's all very well for Him. He hasn't got to live with them." He has. He is inside them as well as outside them. He is with them far more intimately and closely and incessantly that we can ever be. Every vile thought within their minds (and ours), every moment of spite, envy, arrogance, greed, and self-conceit comes right up against His patient and longing love, and grieves His Spirit more than it grieves ours."

Today, when I think of my attitude towards X, I am saddened. Surely X knew I couldn't stand him. The thought of X knowing that, and still smiling as he sang with all his off-tuned heart, sickens me. Who am I, before God, to treat anyone that way? And who are you to do the same? Lewis writes:

"Be sure that there is something inside you which, unless it is altered, will put it out of God's power to prevent your being eternally miserable. While that something remains, there can be no Heaven for you, just as there can be no sweet smells for a man with a cold in the nose, and no music for a man who is deaf. It's not a question of God "sending" us to Hell. In each of us there is something growing up which will of itself be Hell unless it is nipped in the bud. The matter is serious: let us put ourselves in His hands at once--this very day, this hour."

***
My book on prayer is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

My book on leadership is Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I'm now working on...

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

I'm editing a book I'm now calling Encounters with the Holy Spirit.

After the dust clears, Linda and I plan to write our book on Relationships.