Tuesday, May 26, 2020

John MacArthur Is Right About the Myth of Government Persecution of the Church

I don't agree with all of John MacArthur's theology, especially his anticharismatic views. (See, for example, Michael Brown's Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur's Strange Fire.)

That aside, I appreciated what he recently said about the myth that the government is persecuting churches, and why his church is still not having the doors open on Sundays. Here it is.

What would have made a difference would have been if this was persecution of the church, if all of a sudden the government decided to shut down churches as an act of persecution against churches. We would defy that because now you’re into Acts 5 where Peter actually says, “Do we obey God or men?” You say we don’t meet, God says we must meet. You say don’t preach the gospel, we say we must preach the gospel. So when the government gets to the point where it basically persecutes the church, the church has to take that persecution and still do what God has commanded the church to do.
The other thing that we talked about with the elders was if we defy this and if we say we’re going to meet anyway, we run the risk of exposing people to this illness needlessly. And why would we want to do that? Because this is a health issue, this is a health crisis. And since like any church, many of the people in our church are older. We wouldn’t want to expose them to that. We’ve only had, as far as I know, and this was up to yesterday, we’ve only had one couple in our church in the Spanish ministry who actually got the coronavirus. But that couple, and not an older couple either, wound up in the hospital because it was such a virulent experience for them.
So we wouldn’t want to say, “Well, let them come to church and mingle with everybody else. Let it be. Whatever is going to be is going to be.” That doesn’t make sense. We wouldn’t purposely expose our people. That’s not caring for your people. We wouldn’t purposely expose them to that. And since we wouldn’t have known, we just said, “Look, we’re not going to do that.”

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Spiritual Comfort Food (for the Discomforted)

Here are posts, related to the pandemic, I have made since the shut-down began. There's a book here somewhere.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Remembering as a Cure for Fear

Dandelion seeds in my front yard

I will remember the deeds 
of the Lord in my life.

Linda’s mother suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for many years. This horrible illness caused her to slowly lose her memory. One result of her memory loss was an increase of fear. 

One afternoon Linda, her mother Martha, her father Del, and I were shopping in a mall. At one point Linda and Del left for an hour to shop together, while I stayed with Martha. We sat together for a minute, and then she looked at me, her eyes filled with panic, and asked, “Where’s Del?!” 

“He’s shopping with Linda. He’ll be right back,” I responded. 

This put Martha at ease. But only for a few minutes. Forgetting what I had just said, Martha looked at me again, and asked, “Where’s Del?” 

“He’s with Linda. He’ll be right back.” 

This happened several times in an hour, with Martha forgetting, me reminding her, she calming down, then forgetting and filled with fear, asking “Where’s Del?”, and me reminding her again. Martha not only had forgotten what I said to her, she had forgotten a more basic truth, which was: in Del, she had a husband who would never, ever, leave her or forsake her. He was always by her side, Alzheimer’s or not.  

There is a “spiritual Alzheimer’s disease” which results in forgetting the many times God has rescued and delivered us, provided for us, and been with us. Such forgetting breeds fear. The more one forgets the deeds of God in one’s own life, the more one becomes fearful in the present moment. 

The antidote to this is: remembering

“Remembering” is huge in the Old Testament. The post-Exodus experience of Israel is grounded in remembrance. The Jewish festivals are remember-events, such as Passover, when the head of the household sits with his family and asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In response, the past is recounted, and we hear again how God delivered their people out of bondage in Egypt. This remembering, reminding them of God’s past faithfulness, brings fresh hope. 

My spiritual journal functions as the written memory of the voice and deeds of God, in my life. I take time every year to re-ponder my journals. In doing so, I remember what God has done for me, how he has delivered me from bondage, and how he has answered many of my prayers. I re-read of past times when I was afraid, or worried, and then re-read how God came through, and my worry dissipated. 

do not, I will not, forget the deeds of the Lord in my life. The spiritual discipline of remembering brings renewed hope in the present, defeating the onset of spiritual Alzheimer’s disease.

- From my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with GodChapter 13, "Praying and Remembering" 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Praying Tree and a Holy Indifference

(Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio)

There is a pine tree in a forest preserve outside Lansing, Michigan, that I used to pray in. The branches formed a natural ladder. I would climb thirty feet up, sit on a branch, feel the wind swaying the tree, and pray.

I had made a leather wristband, and burned these words on it: "a holy indifference." By this I meant: indifferent to everything, except what God wants for me and says to me. One day I wore the wristband when I climbed the praying tree.

Ruth Haley Barton writes: 

"Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a model of what it means to be indifferent. Her prayer “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) is will  a wonderful expression of the kind of indifference we are talking about here." (Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 202)

Without a holy indifference we should not expect to hear much from God. Without indifference "the discernment process becomes little more than a rigged election!" (Ib.) This is because our agendas compete with the voice of God, which rarely matches our agendas.

"Indifference is an important prerequisite to the prayer for wisdom, because the wisdom of God is often the foolishness of this world; indifference to matters of our own ego, in particular, prepares us to receive this gift." (Ib., 203)

I tied the leather wristband around a limb of the praying tree. That was 1985, thirty-five years ago! Whenever I climbed the tree, I saw the wristband. 

This was, for a season of my life, my spiritual focus. I was learning holy indifference. 

On occasion, I think of going back and trying to find that tree. If the tree still stands, the wristband has become the tree. Hopefully, a holy indifference has become me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Trust Disables the Agitated Heart

(Linda, at Weko Beach, Michigan)

In John 13 Jesus' disciples have just:

  •  seen Judas leave them, 
  • heard Peter confronted with his future denial of Jesus, 
  • and heard Jesus tell them he's leaving soon, by way of a horrible death. 

Understandably, this leaves their hearts "troubled," and they will encounter even more reasons to be disturbed in the hours to follow.

Knowing this, Jesus tells them, "Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust in me." 

The word "troubled" can be translated "agitated." Some washing machines have an "agitator." It moves back and forth, back and forth. When a heart is agitated, it moves back and forth, back and forth. It is disturbed. Troubled.

Trust stops the inner agitator. 

Trust concerns an unknown future. It relates to things we have little or no control over. Which are: most things.

Trust and control do not go together. To do both is to be agitated.

The Greek word used in John 14:1 is pisteuo, which means: "personal relational trust" (Andreas Kostenberger, John, 425). I put my trust in someone, or something. I place my trust in a person, or persons. 

I have a friend who is a police office. He recently told me, "John, I don't trust anyone." I think he trusts me. It's taken him years to come to this. His work takes him into untrustworthy situations, every day. Trust implies risk. Can we trust this person?

No trust means no rest. No trust equals no peace. But where a person trusts, there is rest and peace. 

Where trust is, troubledness is not. Trust and troubledness do not logically coexist. Any place you are trusting is a place of non-agitation. 

This is good. We all need a refuge.

In life, trust in God; trust in Jesus. He then becomes the Quieter of our Souls. We find rest, in Him. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Hope: God Will Make a Way

(Faces - by Gary Wilson)

For those who feel hopeless today: there is hope.

To access the emotion of hope, draw near to God.

Trust in the Lord with your entire being.
Don't waste time trying to figure out the impossible.
Instead, in all you do today, acknowledge Him.
He will lay out the path before you.

Proverbs 3:4-5 (my translation)

"Hope," writes Miroslav Volf, "is love stretching itself into the future." (Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Public Good, Kindle location 978)

Hope is expectation. When I hope, I expect something and prepare for it. And that "something," when it comes to hope, is seen as good. "In our everyday usage, “hope” is, roughly, the expectation of good things that don’t come to us as a matter of course." (Ib.)

Make your focus today God. Expect the unexpected.

Hope is different than optimism. "Optimism has to do with good things in the future that are latent in the past and the present; the future associated with optimism is an unfolding of what is already there. We survey the past and the present, extrapolate about what is likely to happen in the future, and, if the prospects are good, become optimistic." (Kindle Locations 989-991) 

Hope is different. Hope "has to do with good things in the future that come to us from “outside,” from God; the future associated with hope— [Jurgen] Moltmann calls it adventus—is a gift of something new." (Kindle Locations 991-993; emphasis mine)

Hope is about a promise, given to us from God. 

Because God is love, we trust in God's faithfulness. "God then brings about “a new thing”: aged Sarah, barren of womb, gives birth to a son (Gen. 21:1–2; Rom. 4:18–21); the crucified Jesus Christ is raised from the dead (Acts 2:22–36); a mighty Babylon falls and a new Jerusalem comes down from heaven (Rev. 18:1–24; 21:1–5); more generally, the good that seemed impossible becomes not just possible but real." (Kindle Locations 994-996)

God desires to fulfill His desires in you. God is working all things, all things, together for good, in you, today. Linda and I have much experience with this!

Consider yourself a fruit-bearing branch as you connect with Jesus. Now. Today.

Volf writes: "The expectation of good things that come as a gift from God—that is hope. And that is love too, projecting itself into our life and our world’s future. For love always gives gifts and is itself a gift; inversely, every genuine gift is an expression of love. At the heart of the hoped-for future, which comes from the God of love, is the flourishing of individuals, communities, and our whole globe." (Kindle Locations 997-999; emphasis mine)

How does a person become a hope-filled person? By living in constant connection to God. Hopelessness is a dis-ease that breeds outside the house of God. But within God's house, we live close to the heart and voice of God. This is where we hear and receive the multiform promises of God.

Hope does not dwell in the house of fear. (See Henri Nouwen, Lifesigns, where he distinguished between the "house of faith" and the "house of fear.")

Hope is the emotion, as an orientation of my being, that arises in God's presence, where I hear his promises to me, and to us.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Some Guidelines for Civil Discourse

Flicker, in my back yard

(I don't read what people post on social media. I don't have time to do this. I am on Facebook, but I block everyone except my family and our church staff. 
I'm not on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumbler, Snapchat, or Whatsapp. Or anything.  
I post this blog to Facebook. Some respond to my blog, and I often interact with them. Thank you.
I have always been a culture-watcher. I am interested in human behavior. I study moral behavior and its sources (mdtaethics) like a madman. I am  interested in how we Jesus-followers should live and act and have our being. 
I have personal experience with humans abusing each other verbally. Even among Christians. Even, sadly, at times, me.
This post is about how someone who claims to follow Jesus should conduct themselves, in any medium, in all human interaction.)

Guidelines for Civil Discourse: #1 - Love People

If you are a follower of Jesus, this is for us. 

Though the world fails in civility, we must engage in civil discourse.

Our foundation for civil discourse is love. We are to love others, in our behaviors. With the love of God, exemplified in Jesus. We must love like Jesus loves.

This includes those who disagree with us. It encompasses our enemies. They are among our "neighbors."

Love is the sign, the mark, that we are what we declare we are; viz., Christians. If we don't love, we have nothing. (See 1 Corinthians 13) If we don't love, we don't have our identity, at least in the eyes of others. People don't care how much we know until they know how much we care.

Jesus affirms the call to love in John 13:34-35:

“A new command I give you: 
Love one another. 
As I have loved you, 
so you must love one another. 
By this everyone will know 
that you are my disciples, 
if you love one another.”

People will know that you and I are with Jesus as we love one another. If we fail to do this, we will be far from Jesus. Others will think of Jesus through the lens of our rudeness and incivility.

When Christians hate one another on social media, they fail to display what is supposed to be their distinguishing mark; viz., love. When we get disgusted, show irritation, demean, mock, slander, ridicule, or bully, we dishonor people made in God's image. And bring shame upon our Lord.

Francis Schaeffer, in his classic The Mark of the Christian, writes:

"We are to love our fellowmen, to love all men, in fact, as neighbors. 
All men bear the image of God. They have value, not because they are redeemed, but because they are God’s creation in God’s image. Modern man, who has rejected this, has no clue as to who he is, and because of this he can find no real value for himself or for other men. Hence, he downgrades the value of other men and produces the horrible thing we face today—a sick culture in which men treat men as inhuman, as machines. As Christians, however, we know the value of men. 
All men are our neighbors, and we are to love them as ourselves. We are to do this on the basis of creation, even if they are not redeemed, for all men have value because they are made in the image of God. Therefore they are to be loved even at great cost." (Schaeffer, pp. 15-16)

It is clear, is it not, that in all our discourse with people we are to love them. This is the higher ground, where Jesus was suspended on a cross.

Guidelines for Civil Discourse: #2 - Never Mock People

Followers of Jesus are never to mock or ridicule other people.

Never. Ever. 

Mockery and ridicule are opponents of agape love. They reside in the camp of conditional love. ("If you agreed with my position, then I would not show my disgust towards you.")

Every person is made in the imago dei, the image of God. To mock and ridicule a person, no matter who they are or what they believe or disbelieve, is to mock that person's Maker. If you mock someone's children, you also mock them. This is how it is in tribal communities.

Slow-cook in the book of Proverbs and apply.

How long will you who are simple 
love your simple ways? 
How long will mockers delight in mockery 
and fools hate knowledge?
Proverbs 1:22

He mocks proud mockers 
but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.
Proverbs 3:34

If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; 
if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.
Proverbs 9:12

The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none, 
but knowledge comes easily to the discerning.
Proverbs 14:6

Penalties are prepared for mockers, 
and beatings for the backs of fools.
Proverbs 19:29

The proud and arrogant person
—“Mocker” is his name— 
behaves with insolent fury.
Proverbs 21:24

Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; 
quarrels and insults are ended.
Proverbs 22:10

Mockers stir up a city, 
but the wise turn away anger.
Proverbs 29:8

How shall we live the command to love our neighbor? By mocking them?

How shall we give witness to the sign that we belong to Jesus? By mocking one another?

How shall we be blessed as peacemakers? By ridiculing those who disagree with us?

Is mockery among the fruit of the Spirit?

Shall we build up the body of Christ using the spiritual gift of ridicule?

Is not any fellowship with the company of mockers called wickedness? (Psalm 1:1)

To mock and ridicule others that do not think like you is non-redemptive, only causing existing divisions to separate further. 

(In logic, mockery and ridicule are types of informal fallacies, called ad hominem abusives. To verbally abuse someone not only adds nothing to an argument, it diminishes the argument.)

Guidelines for Civil Discourse - #3: The Other Is Not Your Enemy

The apostle Paul writes:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, 
but against the rulers, 
against the authorities, 
against the powers of this dark world 
and against the spiritual forces of evil 
in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12

So, if it has flesh and blood, it is not our real enemy.

Our real enemies are "the powers of this dark world" and the "spiritual forces of evil." These are the spiritual forces Jesus came to defeat.

Jesus did not come to defeat people. He came to rescue them. In the rescue, the powers of darkness are defeated.

If you are a follower of Jesus you must not demonize others. Even if they anger you. To do that is to wrestle with the wrong adversaries. 

Discuss? Yes. Agree, or disagree? Of course. Wrestle with? That would be like leaving your true opponent on the wrestling mat and climbing into the bleachers and trying to pin the captive onlookers.

If we view and treat one another as enemies, we are engaged in vain warfare.

If an army starts to shoot its own, waging war within itself, this is not only a pseudo-battle, it's going to lead to defeat by the real enemy. If the actual enemy can get us to self-destroy,  it has won.

You and I are not enemies, because we are flesh and blood. If something has flesh and blood it cannot be our enemy.

Sadly, Christians can be tempted, deceived, and even used by the dark powers. (see Eph. 2:2; 4:14) As Ben Witherington writes: “It is all too easy to mistake the human vessel of evil for evil itself.” Pray that we never make that mistake, for if we do the days of hating and hurting and hiding from one another have arrived.

Our struggle is essentially a spiritual one. 

Wage war on that level.

Wage peace with one another.

Guidelines for Civil Discourse - #4: Never Insult a Brother or Sister

When Linda and I were campus pastors at Michigan State University, we were teaching Matthew 5:21-24 to our students. In the midst of the discussion, one of our students, Naomi, who was from Malawi, said: "If we followed the words of Jesus here very few of us would be worshiping today. We would all get up and leave, go to the brothers and sisters we were demeaning, and ask for forgiveness."

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, 
and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry 
with a brother or sister 
will be subject to judgment. 
Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 
is answerable to the court. 
And anyone who says, ‘
You fool!’ 
will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, 
if you are offering your gift at the altar 
and there remember 
that your brother or sister 
has something against you,
24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. 
First go 
and be reconciled to them; 
then come and offer your gift.

"Raca" is an Aramaic term of abuse. It means "idiot." (See R.T. France,The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 120)

Anyone who calls a brother or sister in Christ an idiot is answerable to the Sanhedrin. (Greek synedrion.) France writes: "Jesus here threatens ultimate divine judgment on anger, even as expressed in everyday insults." (Ib.) 

If I call someone an idiot am I really relegated to the garbage heap where Israel's rubbish was burned? No. Jesus is using exaggeration, as he often does, to make a point. (This is called Semitic hyperbole.) But the point is important. This is "an injunction to submit our thoughts about other people, as well as the words they give rise to, to God's penetrating scrutiny... We cannot worship God with grudges unsettled."

Anger is no excuse for insulting people. It is non-redemptive and alienating.

If you are a Jesus-follower, and you ridicule a brother or sister, your worship is inauthentic, and unacceptable to God.

Guidelines for Civil Discourse - #5: Fear Speaking Badly of Others Made in God's Image

Frost on my car window

Have you ever met a Christian who never spoke badly of another person? I have met a few.

Apparently, Bill Johnson is one of those. Thank you, C.H., for posting this.

"In a recent meeting, someone said to Bill Johnson, "I notice that you never talk about people. You never talk badly about people. And I'm just wondering what's going on in your heart? How did you discipline yourself to NEVER speak negatively of other people, even people who are sometimes a pain?"
Bill, with tears running down his cheeks, said, "I fear Jesus in them. That I would speak badly about someone made in the image of God, that is so valued by God that Jesus died for them. And that I would portray them as something less valuable than that. I fear how God would deal with a person who would betray the people made in his image."

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Conspiracy Theories Fail the Criterion of Simplicity

Car destroyed as the Twin Towers fell - picture in NYC at the site.

Whenever I hear "conspiracy theory" I doubt it.

In logic classes (like the one I taught for seventeen years) students are taught to reject conspiracy theorizing. It exemplifies irrational thinking.

For example, NBA basketball star Steph Curry once denied that the US landed on the moon. It was all a conspiracy! That loony claim got him lots of push-back. Then, he denied that he meant anything about it - it was a joke. 

Yes, there are true conspiracies. But, in general, pay no attention to conspiracy theorists. Here's why.

Several years ago, after the tragedy of 9-1-1, a handful of Monroe-area skeptics stood on a street corner holding signs that said, "Impeach Bush." Why? Because, they "reasoned," what happened on 9-1-1 was a conspiracy. 

They were quoted in our local newspaper: “It was probably a cruise missile that went off [launched by the U.S.!], and they didn’t want anyone to see that. They did it so they could justify attacking Iraq. Probably, that happened?” 

It didn't. 

Here’s the “thinking”:

1.Probably a cruise missile sent by the U.S. hit the Pentagon.

2.The U.S. government didn’t want people to see that.

3.So, they suppressed the videos, which actually showed a cruise missile hitting the Pentagon. (That’s why we have not seen any more videos of the incident.)

4.The motive: The U.S. did this deliberately to justify attacking Iraq!

Right. (Conspiracy theories are wastelands of innuendo and suspicion.)

What's wrong with conspiracy theories like this? Let's look to logic (actual reasoning) for an answer.

In my Intro to Logic class I used Lewis Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking. Chapter 9 is called "Inference to the Best Explanation" (also called abductive reasoning; or the likelihood principle). This is about theories, and how to evaluate them. 

In theory-evaluation there are "criteria of adequacy." Vaughn writes:

"Applying the criteria of adequacy to a set of theories constitutes the ultimate test of a theory's value, for the best theory is the eligible theory that meets the criteria of adequacy better than any of its competitors." (356-357)  

For Vaughn these are:

  1. Testability - there is some way to determine whether the theories are true or false.
  2. Fruitfulness - the yielding of new insights that can open up whole new areas of research and discovery.
  3. Scope - it explains more diverse phenomena.
  4. Simplicity - a theory that makes fewer assumptions is less likely to be false because there are fewer ways for it to be wrong.
  5. Conservatism - other things being equal, the best theory is the one that fits best with established beliefs.
Vaughn shows how conspiracy theories usually fail the criterion of simplicity because they...

..."try to explain events by positing the secret participation of numerous conspirators.... Some conspiracy theories, of course, have been found to be true. But most of them are implausible... They would have us raise numerous assumptions that raise more questions than they answer: How do the conspirators manage to keep their activities secret? How do they control all the players? Where is the evidence that all the parts of the conspiracy have come together just so?" (365)

Vaughn calls the United States "Conspiracy Central." In America, conspiracy theories abound. Here are some of the things we are told are the center of a massive conspiracy:
  • Elvis's death
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, assassination
  • The Oklahoma City bombing
  • Princess Diana's death
  • The earth is really flat
  • Vaccines are unsafe (among other things, they cause autism - debunking happens here. But isn't the CDC behind the conspiracy? Right...)
  • Bill Gates is behind the coronavirus, wanting to use a vaccination program to implant digital microchips that will somehow track and control people (No Christian leader or thinker that I admire is promoting this.)
  • The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001
Re. the latter: 

1) How did Pres. Bush and his numerous supposed cohorts keep their activities secret?; 

2) How did Bush and his partners control all the players involved?; and 

3) Where is the evidence that this massive, complicated plan came together just so? 

The answer: it didn't happen that way.

I'm challenging you to think clearly, and critically.

One more thought. When these conspiracy theories prove to be false, those who have spread them and injected fear into people rarely, if ever, go public and apologize.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

How to Lead Church When the Pandemic Is Over

How shall we lead the Church in the days ahead?

With a new Pentecostalism. Like this.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

We Shall Not Be Uprooted

Navarre–Anderson Trading Post
(Navarrre-Anderson Trading Post, 1789, Monroe, Michigan)

7:30 AM. I begin the day with the book of Proverbs.

I've done a full stop on this verse.

No one can be established through wickedness, 
but the righteous cannot be uprooted.

Proverbs 12:3

It comes to me as a promise. If I live a life of righteousness, then even a global storm will not uproot me. Because I am established.

I live in the oldest part of the state of Michigan. The oldest house in Michigan is one mile to the west of us. (See here.) You read the historic landmark sign, and see it was established in 1789.

To be established is to be firmly rooted. Neither storm nor wind nor water nor human has demolished it.

So it is with the righteous person, the one who walks in God's ways, the one who has integrity of character, the one stands though others fall, the one who remains though others leave, the one who holds on while others let go, the one who persists while others desist, the one who believes though others unbelieve.

The one who declares, WE SHALL NOT BE UPROOTED.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

In Praying, God's Peace Overcomes My Anxiety

(Downtown Monroe)

At times I feel as if I'm in a science fiction movie. Much is unknown, and the unknown produces fear.

What shall I do?

I focus on what is known. Which is Christ. 

I spend time praying. I have done this for decades. In a sea of change, this has not changed. 

A consistent, ongoing praying life brings overcomes the pseudo-wisdom of our fear-driven, anxiety-producing world. For me it looks like this:

1. I abide in Christ, in the act of praying.

2. Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).
3. Therefore I overcome the world. (Christ in me, the hope of glory - right?)

My status as a Jesus-follower is that I am "in Christ." Praying, then, actively demonstrates my in-Christ status. As Christ is formed in me (Galatians 4:19) He gives me His peace and joy (John 14:27; 15:11).

Henri Nouwen describes world-overcoming and transformation into Christlikeness:

"When we enter into solitude we will often hear these two voices - the voice of the world and the voice of the Lord - pulling us in two contrary directions. But if we keep returning faithfully to the place of solitude, the voice of the Lord will gradually become stronger and we will come to know and understand with mind and heart the peace we are searching for." (Nouwen, The Road to Peace: Writings on Peace and Justice, 23)

In solitary praying I come to know peace and thus overcome agitation. I am made whole, by Christ, and grow beyond the chaos and fragmentation around me.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

How to Pray During the Pandemic

To pray more effectively in these difficult times,

do this.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Overcoming Fearfulness

Downtown Monroe

Many of my fears are irrational, in two ways. The first is like this:

1) I believe that Horrible Event X is going to happen.
2) I feel fearful of Horrible Event X.
3) Horrible Event X never happens.

The famous non-event of "Y2K" is an example. I was among those who did not believe this horrible event would happen. But some did, and the emotion of fear was real to them. Many went through that fearful time for no reason. Their fear was irrational. 

Many fears concern events that never happen. 

A second kind of irrational fear is this.

1) Horrible Event X is probably going to happen.
2) I feel fearful of Horrible Event X.
3) Horrible Event X happens.

For example, I might be facing a surgery. I experience fear while waiting for it. It is natural to feel fearful, but my fear does nothing to help the situation. My fearfulness makes the whole thing worse than it already is. In this sense my fearfulness is irrational. It is like pouring fuel on an already-existing fire. 

Consider a less toxic situation. Let's say that tomorrow I have to mediate in a conflict which threatens to hurt our church if it is not healed. (Which I do not, BTW.) I have trouble getting to sleep tonight, because I am fearful there will be a negative outcome. My fear is real, but irrational, since it contributes nothing to the healing, and may actually prevent me from seeing clearly in the act of mediation.

Both as a pastor and as a human, I face fearful situations. There is always "something coming around the bend," imagined or real. I would like to face those situations minus the feeling of fear, which is unhelpful, unhealthy, and debilitating. Is this possible?

I believe it is possible to overcome fearfulness. The antidote to a fearful heart is to make God one's "fortress and strength," the result being, "what shall I then fear?" Henri Nouwen writes:

"The mystery of the spiritual life is that Jesus desires to meet us in the seclusion of our own heart, to make his love known to us there, to free us from our fears, and to make our own deepest self known to us... Each time you let the love of God penetrate deeper into your heart, you lose a bit of your anxiety." (Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 70-71)

Nouwen devotes an entire book to this theme, and asks the question, "Do you live in the house of God or in the house of fear?" 

We have a choice about which spiritual and emotional "house" we are going to call home. (See Nouwen's Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective

Today, engage in those spiritual disciplines that connect you to Jesus. Make the house of God, not the house of fear, the dwelling place of your heart.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A Wise Person Holds Their Tongue

Tuesday morning, April 28, 2020.

8 AM.

I begin my day reading in Proverbs chapter 11. I have been in this chapter for two weeks.

I am in search of wisdom. 

I now see that this wisdom quest began in me in 1970. Fifty years ago, almost exactly to this date, I became a follower of Jesus.

And I changed my university major from music theory to philosophy.

Philo-sophy. Literally, "the love of wisdom."

Flourishing people are wisdom collectors.

Proverbs 11:12 instructs:

Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, 
but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.

Old Testament scholar John Walton comments:

"Proverbs frequently teaches that foolish speech has dire consequences and inevitably results in disorder. In some proverbs, as here, the nature of the speech is not specified, but on other occasions it is described as lying, gossip, slander, rumor and other socially destructive behaviors. Egyptian sages also recognized the connection between evil speech and negative results. A good example is from Any: “A man may be ruined by his tongue, Beware and you will do well.”"  (NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible)

This verse contains enough wisdom for me today.

I write it on a 3X5 card, and slip it in my pocket.

Friday, April 17, 2020

How to Abide in Christ In a Pandemic

(April 17, 2020 - my front yard - SNOW!)

Jesus told his disciples that, if they abide in him, their lives will bear much fruit. "Abide" can be translated "to dwell."

Imagine Linda and I knock on your door. "We've come for a visit," I say. Presumably, you will let us in and put on the coffee. 

But if we knock on the door, and I say, "We've come to dwell with you," you are wondering if we are homeless.

To visit is a microwave, to abide is a slow cooker.

To abide in Jesus is to connect. Like a branch is attached to a vine. Jesus is the vine; I am the branch.

As I am a branch, the resources of the vine flow into me. I begin to produce the life of the vine. I produce VineLife.

To produce VineLife I must choose to do something. I cannot just sleep in my recliner while half-watching Netflix and expect to do what Jesus did. I must connect!

Here are ways I connect. And remember, when you connect to Jesus the Vine, your life will be fruit-bearing. It just will. You cannot be connected to Jesus and not be fruit-bearing. 

1. I meditate on Scripture. I read Scripture. When I read something that speaks to me, I assume this God, trying to tell me something. This makes me a slow reader! If you could see me reading Scripture you would see moments where I've got my eyes closed, my hand on my chin, and my body is still. 
When God speaks to me through a passage or verse in the Bible, I stop reading, and start meditating. I may write the verse in my journal. I often write it on a 3X5 card, place it in my pocket, and carry it with me.
For example, weeks ago, while reading through part of Proverbs, I came to this.

2. I keep a record of what God is saying to me. This is a spiritual journal. I often take time to re-read what God has been saying to me. I have gone through a lot of journals in the past fifty years! I recently bought a new one, which I like. Here it is.

3. I practice spiritual disciplines. The apostle Paul spoke of exercising in the spiritual gymnasium (going into "strict training"). Paul told me that, if I want to compete in the game of life, I must "exercise unto godliness." 
In 1981 a friend of ours, Dr. John Powell, gave me a copy of Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline. John has been one of the most influential persons in my life (Linda's, too!). As I began to read this book, God was speaking to me. I read many books. But only a few have transformed my heart. This was one. My abiding life in Christ took a quantum leap forward! The connection-disciplines in this book became my spiritual DNA.   
The spiritual disciplines themselves don't produce the fruit. They provide the attachment. The Holy Spirit produces the fruit.

4. I pray. I have a praying life. I have done this for so many years Foster's book helped me here, too. He also wrote a beautiful book on prayer. (Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home
In praying I speak to, and I listen to God. I have conversations with God. The discipline of choosing to pray has moved from my head ("I need to pray!") to my heart ("I pray to live!").
An excellent book on listening to God is Hearing God Through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional, by Dallas Willard.

In this season of my life I continue to read, slowly, Proverbs. And Psalms. I am also reading Ezekiel, slowly, from the Old Testament. And I am re-reading, slowly, the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

One more suggestion. My book on prayer can be read devotionally. Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I hope this helps - blessings!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Solitude Is a Transforming Fire

Seagulls at Sterling State Park, Monroe

Solitude is not loneliness.

Solitude is thick, deep, empowering, and transforming.

On Tuesday I spent two hours alone with God. Praying. For others, and for myself. Listening. Meditating on Scripture.

I have intentionally practiced solitude with God for fifty years. Often, hours at a time. I have experienced what Henri Nouwen means when he calls solitude with God the fire of spiritual transformation. In this fire, the false self gets burned away, and the true self - what God has intended us to be - emerges.

Biblical solitude, the kind that is transforming, the kind that changes us, is different from simply being alone in a peaceful, beautiful environment. Transforming solitude is bringing myself to God. It is being with God. It is being in the company, in the presence, of God.

Wil Hernandez states that biblical solitude "encompasses a kind of double transformative encounter: with ourselves and with God - often even simultaneously." (Hernandez, Mere Spirituality: The Spiritual Life According to Henri Nouwen, p. 14)

Transformative solitude is "daring to stand in God's presence." That's the first part of the double transformative encounter. Nouwen writes: "Our first task in solitude is to simply allow ourselves to become aware of the divine presence, to 'Be still, and know that I am God'," (Ib.) 

The second is this: 

"Through solitude we come face-to-face not only with God but with our true self as well. In fact, it is precisely in the light of God's presence that we can see ourselves for who we really are." (Ib.)

Arguably, not much transformation into increasing Christlikeness will happen without ongoing, solitary meetings with God.

Solitude is a transforming fire.

I write about this in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Power of Solitude to Combat Depression

Image result for johnpiippo quiet
(Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio, prior to their current renovations)

Solitude is not loneliness. Your social isolation during the pandemic can either be lonely, or solitary.

An emerging body of research suggests that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us. 

Leon Nayfekh, in "The Power of Lonely", says solitude is a good and needed thing, he says. Here are the bullets.

  • Even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of achieving focus and creative thinking.
  • Research suggests that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life. If we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. I know, after years of regularly taking solitary times with God, that solitude helps me be better with people.
  • Solitude (if done right) makes our bodies and minds work better.
  • One ongoing Harvard study indicates that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone.
  • Solitude can make a person more capable of empathy towards others. (I am certain this is true. Especially if solitude is done in the right way. My compassion for others, even for my enemies, increases in extended solitary times with God.)
  • In an age when no one is ever more than a text message or an e-mail away from other people, the distinction between “alone” and “together” has become hopelessly blurry, even as the potential benefits of true solitude are starting to become clearer.
  • Nayfekh writes: "Solitude has long been linked with creativity, spirituality, and intellectual might. The leaders of the world’s great religions — Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses — all had crucial revelations during periods of solitude. The poet James Russell Lowell identified solitude as “needful to the imagination;” in the 1988 book “Solitude: A Return to the Self,” the British psychiatrist Anthony Storr invoked Beethoven, Kafka, and Newton as examples of solitary genius."
  • Solitude is to be distinguished from "loneliness."
  • Nayfekh has an interesting review of "solitude research." U-Mass graduate student Christopher Long "started working on a project to precisely define solitude and isolate ways in which it could be experienced constructively. The project’s funding came from, of all places, the US Forest Service, an agency with a deep interest in figuring out once and for all what is meant by “solitude” and how the concept could be used to promote America’s wilderness preserves."
  • There is "an emergence of solitude studies." For example, Robert Coplan of Carleton University studies children who play alone. "Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, a leader in the world of positive psychology, has recently overseen an intriguing study that suggests memories are formed more effectively when people think they’re experiencing something individually." 
  • Gilbert's study shows that solitude combats "social loafing," "which says that people tend not to try as hard if they think they can rely on others to pick up their slack. (If two people are pulling a rope, for example, neither will pull quite as hard as they would if they were pulling it alone.)" 
  • Solitude fosters "metacognitive activity." "Metacognition" is the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts."  As Richard Arum shows us in his book Academically Adrifttoday's multitasking university students are doing that less and less. (This is Daniel Kahneman's "slow thinking.")
  • Reed Larson of the U of Illinois, in his study of teens and solitude, has shown that meaningful times alone allows for a kind of introspection and freedom from self-consciousness that strengthens their sense of identity. I can personally see how this might happen in the fruit of years spent in intentional aloneness with God. Larson found "that kids who spent between 25 and 45 percent of their nonclass time alone tended to have more positive emotions over the course of the weeklong study than their more socially active peers, were more successful in school and were less likely to self-report depression."
  • "John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, whose 2008 book “Loneliness” with William Patrick summarized a career’s worth of research on all the negative things that happen to people who can’t establish connections with others, said recently that as long as it’s not motivated by fear or social anxiety, then spending time alone can be a crucially nourishing component of life."
  • Psychologist Adam Waytz of Harvard says that "spending a certain amount of time alone... can make us less closed off from others and more capable of empathy — in other words, better social animals."
  • Finally, "kids who spent between 25 and 45 percent of their nonclass time alone tended to have more positive emotions over the course of the weeklong study than their more socially active peers, were more successful in school, and were less likely to self-report depression."

Henri Nouwen has told us that there is a "ministry of presence" and a "ministry of absence." There is a time to be alone with God and a time to be with God and people. I've written about the need for Jesus-followers to regularly enter into solitary times with God here.

FYI - two important pieces on prayer and solitude are: The chapter on "Solitude" in Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, and Henri Nouwen's chapter on solitude in The Way of the Heart.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

I Want a New Normal

"I just want things to go back to normal."

I hear this all the time. I agree with this, partially.

In the Old Normal people could see their sick loved ones in the hospital. We could all gather together on Sunday mornings. We could be with our extended families on Easter. Most people had jobs. Small businesses were open. We didn't have to wear masks in public. We could get close than six feet. We could eat out. We didn't have global fear. And there was enough toilet paper for all.

I would like all of that to return, and more.

But the Old Normal had systemic problems. There was a loneliness epidemic. People were too busy to be still, and know God. People were too busy to pray. Secular culture had taken over. The Church had become marginalized, and lost its influence. Parents kept their kids in sports on Sunday mornings. Utilitarian ethics was our default moral framework. The goal of life was happiness. "Success" was measured metrically (especially in the Church). Pornography abounded.  Baby-killing was legal. There were massive, cross-cultural identity crises. People worked themselves to the bone, and for what? People resorted to arguing by texting, instead of face-to-face. And God was mostly unattended to, as we created and bowed before our selfies, making ourselves into our own images.

I don't want to go back to that. I don't want the Old Normal to be resuscitated. I want a New Normal to be resurrected.

As bad and sad as the pandemic is, some have told me that self-isolation has brought their families closer together. Some are talking together, praying together, walking together, worshiping together, eating meals together, doing projects together, zooming together.

All this makes me wonder, is the revival we've been praying for at hand? Is the illusion that we control all things being exposed? 

In this toxic mess there is an opportunity. We have seen what humans without God can do. Now is the time to encounter the God who says, "Behold, I make all things new." 

This is your great opportunity. You can be "born again." You can become a "new creation." The resurrection principle is this: dead things come to be new, transformed life. Like dry bones taking on new flesh. 

It is time for something completely different. Time for something that transcends fragile, finite human talents and abilities. Time for something money has never been able to buy. Time for something that gets us out of our self-worship.

I want a New Normal.

Time to shed Narcissus and put on Jesus.

Time to go after this.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Importance of Remembering in Maintaining Hope

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, 
for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23

In this difficult time of the virus and its ripple effects on persons, what is needed is hope.

Hope: the mood of expectation that comes from a promise that something good is going to happen.

When I hope, I expect. "Expectation" is the mood that characterizes hope. Hope is expectation, based on a promise that has been given. 

It seems that every day Linda and I meet someone who has lost hope. Loss of hope produces stagnancy and passivity. And depression. The loss of hope threatens life.

How important is hope? Lewis Smedes writes:

“There is nothing more important in this whole world than keeping hope alive in the human spirit. I am convinced that hope is so close to the core of all that makes us human that when we lose hope we lose something of our very selves. And in the process we lose all reason for striving for the better life we were meant to live, the better world that was meant to be. Let me put it as baldly as I can: there is nothing, repeat nothing, more critical for any one of us, young or old or anywhere in between, than the vitality of our hope.”  (Smedes, KeepingHope Alive: For a Tomorrow We Cannot Control, p. 6)

Real hope leads to activity, because it is attached to a promise that fuels the sense of expectation. The hope-filled, expectant person prepares now for the promised, coming event.

A husband and wife are said to be "expecting" when she is pregnant with their inborn child. The reality of this hope is seen in their active preparation for the promised one to arrive. They create a space in their home for the newborn to dwell. They buy clothes and toys. They think and dream and pray. Hope, grounded in a promise of something good, is joy-filled.

Hope is different than "wishing." "Wishing" is not attached to a promise, and hence is devoid of the sense of expectation. The wishing person is inactive. The person who wishes to win the gazillion-dollar lottery does not quit his job and sell his house. When no real promise is given, passivity reigns.

How can we overcome hopelessness and begin to hope again? One way I utilize is: I remember.

"Remembering " plays a role in "hoping." My spiritual journal, which is a record of God's activity in my life, helps me to remember. My journal includes God's promises to me, and promises realized. I have many stories where things looked hopeless, and then life returned. When I re-read and re-meditate on my journals I am filled with hope. I remember the deeds of the Lord in my life. I come to know God, in whom I have placed my trust, and makes good on his promises. I am then in a very good spiritual place. It affects how I look at the unseen future. I see that "he who promised is faithful."

I am intentional about remembering. This includes carrying lists of God's blessings to me, and looking at them often. I have found that a hoping person...

...remembers the deeds of God in their life; 
...remembers God-promises given, and God-promises fulfilled; 
...makes God their trust today, and each day; 
...dwells on the promises of God in Scripture;
...listens for God's voice, and his promises;
...is expectant; 
...is active, since real hope always leads to present vitality.

I encourage a hopeless person to list, and thereby remember, the deeds of the Lord in their life. Write down ways God has been faithful to them. I have seen this result in a refocusing and re-membering of the person, as the pieces of their heart are put together again.

(Note: another antidote for hopelessness is connectedness to the Jesus-community. Hopelessness isolates people; unattended-to isolation breeds hopelessness. Be intentional about being part of a small group. Be intentional about gathering with others on Sunday mornings. Many times I have come on a Sunday morning, holding on to some fear in my heart, only to find it lifted and removed as we meet with the Lord together.)

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Churches Need Discernment in this Current Crisis


One thing the followers of Jesus need during the pandemic and economic crisis is discernmentThe church leadership question is, "God, what are you saying to us?" 

To answer this question requires much time spent in God's presence, with the Scriptures. If this doesn't happen, as an ongoing practice, you can forget hearing from God. 

“Discernment” is a fruit of an abiding prayer life. To "discern" is different from to "decide."

Ruth Haley Barton writes that some pastors have the...

 "vague sense that our approach to decision making should be different from secular models—particularly when we are leading a church or an organization with a spiritual purpose. The problem is that we’re not quite sure what that difference is. In the absence of a clear consensus, that difference often gets reduced to an obligatory devotional (often viewed as irrelevant to the business portion of the meeting) or the perfunctory prayers that bookend the meeting. Sometimes even these well-meaning attempts at a spiritual focus get lost in the shuffle!" (Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, Kindle Locations 180-185)

The difference is: God. God's presence. God, doing the leading. God, doing the building. Because unless God builds the house, we are laboring in vain.

What's needed today, in this storm, is discernment

"Discernment," writes Barton, "in a most general sense, is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives. The apostle Paul says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2). This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind." (Ib., Kindle Locations 186-189)

What's needed today, in churches, is mind-renewing transformation. Pastors and church leaders must be living in the rivers of constant spiritual formation and transformation, in order to discern what the will of God is. This is what the whole "church" thing is about. Barton writes:

"It is hard to imagine that spiritual leadership could be about anything but seeking to know and do the will of God, and yet many leadership groups do not have this as their clear mandate and reason for existence. This raises a serious question: If we are not pursuing the will of God together in fairly intentional ways, what are we doing? Our own will? What seems best according to our own thinking and planning? That which is merely strategic or expedient or good for the ego?" (Ib., Kindle Locations 201-205)

The more familiar or intimate we are with someone, the more we are able to discern their heart. The more time spent in close dialogue, the more we recognize their voice. The less familiarity, the less discernment. Spiritual discernment is in direct proportion to our intimacy with God.

Spiritual discernment comes from an intimate praying life.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

This Is a Time of Opportunity

While talking with a friend this morning, we both agreed that, while the virus and economic meltdown is shaking the planet and causing pain to many, even those we love, when it's over we're not wanting things to go back to what they were. Which was a secular, utilitarian, amoral, materialistic, narcissistic (and more) culture that even seduced churches.

We are praying for a great awakening in churches. For revival to purge God's people from consumer-entertainment religion that metricizes everything, including "success," and produce the following.

(Michael Brown)
Not a weekend meeting.

Not something ordinary and expected.

Not something reducible to human talents and ability.

A lasting visitation of God.

That touches and changes hearts and calls Christians to repentance.

That makes all things new.

That produces real growth (converts), not pseudo growth (Christians leaving one church for another).

That transforms communities.

That humbles narcissistic leaders.

And rocks our nation.

My questions remain. 

What not you? 

Why not us? 

Why not your church? 

Why not now?

Wednesday, April 01, 2020


Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin

Jesus says, in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." How shall we understand this?

When the disciples heard Jesus talk about the kind of peace "the world gives," they would have thought of the Pax Romana, the "Roman Peace." The world, so far as they knew it, was at peace. But this peace was far from satisfying, since it was acquired through war, and maintained by power and control. In addition, Israel and other nations were occupied by foreign armies and governors. 

From a Roman standpoint this looked good. But this is peace maintained by military might. 

It reminds me of when I was teaching in Singapore, arguably the most peaceful Asian country there is. I was told it was safe to walk the streets of Singpore at any time of day or night. The crime rate was extremely low. But, as one Singaporean businessman told me one day, "We fear the police." In worldly peace there is always fear. 

Jesus claims to give peace that is different from this. Jesus' peace must be understand as an overflow of the Trinitarian union of Father, Son, and Spirit. This is a union of love, a togetherness of life and purpose, a sharing in the divine essence. This is real peace, from the perspective of the Godhead. This is the peace Jesus leaves with us. 

Jesus does not say he will strengthen the kind of worldly peace we already have. He is not interested in taking the best political, military-maintained peace-solutions, and tweaking them to perfection. Rather he says, "Here, take my peace. I'm leaving it with you."

"To leave" has the sense of "to bequeath," as when property is transferred to an heir through a will. New Testament scholar Andreas Kostenberger says “Jesus’ parting benediction is more than a “cheap wish.” Jesus’ word is efficacious.” (John, 443) 

Jesus' word effects peace, in us.

This makes sense as we understand that, in John ch.s 14-17, we are invited to nothing less than participation in the Trinitarian union, which I refer to as the Big Dance. In the Big Dance there are beautiful relational manifestations, one of which is peace. 

This is not a theory. It's not a solution to some problem. And, importantly, it is not dependent on circumstances. It is the transtemporal essence of God given, on earth, as it is in heaven.

This is the peace promised to us as we abide in Christ. It is what the Spirit produces, in us, as we live attached to God. 

Monday, March 30, 2020

Pandemic - The Difference Between a Fact and an Emotion


A "fact" has nothing, essentially, to do with an emotion. 

An emotion concerns a person, not a fact.

A fact does not vary from person to person. A fact describes a state of affairs that obtains. If that state of affairs obtains, then it is a fact for everyone, where or not they deny it or affirm it, whether or not they are even aware of it. Emotions, on the other hand, vary from person to person. Facts are objective (if not, then it's not a fact); emotions are subjective.

Facts are true or false independently of any emotions they might elicit.

Consider this fact: There is a Norway spruce in my front yard. What emotion is a property of this fact? The answer is: no emotion is a property, or attribute, or quality, of this fact. Emotion has nothing, essentially, to do with the fact.

What emotion do you feel when you hear this fact: There is a Norway spruce in my front yard. Not sadness, right? Not joy, correct? Certainly not fear, agreed? Facts are disconnected from emotions. Otherwise we would have this: A Norway spruce is a fast-growing evergreen coniferous tree that produces, in addition to cones, the emotion of fear. Or joy. Or whatever. Which is nonsense.

The nonsense involves associating facts about the pandemic with the emotion of fear. It may be true that most people feel fear when they hear of these facts. But the fear is different from the facts. 

This is not to minimalize the importance of emotions. It is simply to put emotions in their proper place.

This means a person can hear facts about the pandemic without feeling fear, because there is no necessary inference from a fact to an emotion. And the lack of fear does not mean a person will not act upon hearing the fact. In fact, the emotion of fear could immobilize a person from acting in the face of this fact.

This explains how Psalm 23:4 can be a reality.

Even though I walk through 
the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil.

The fact here is: I, or someone I love, is facing death. But the emotion of fear does not accompany the fact.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Fear Cannot Survive in an Atmosphere of Faith

(Me and Linda, in Asheville)

This morning, in the midst of the global pandemic, Tim Curry and I co-preached again. And, Holly Collins talked to Redeemer kids and parents. And...   thank you to our tech people who helped pull off the video live stream - Gary, Derek, and Andy.

Fear is a virus. It looks for a person, or a home, to reside in. Fear needs a host.

Fear is a virus that cannot survive in an atmosphere of faith. Just as darkness flees when light appears, faith shows fear the exit door.
We see the antagonistic relationship between fear and faith when we read this from Psalm 23:

Because you are with me,
I fear no evil.

Because who is with me? Jesus. In John 14 we read that Jesus takes up residence in our home. He is the One who will never leave or forsake us. When Jesus lives in us, fear exits.

Many people and their homes are fear-based. In his book LifesignsHenri Nouwen writes: 

"We are fearful people. The more people I come to know and the more I come to know people, the more I am overwhelmed by the negative power of fear. It often seems that fear has invaded every part of our being to such a degree that we no longer know what a life without fear would feel like." 

Nouwen asks us, "Do you dwell in the house of fear, or the house of faith?"

We can grow, and cultivate, an atmosphere of faith. It will be a fear-less, less-fear, environment, as we do these four things.

Give thanks. Make a list of things you thank God for. Carry the list with you. Re-read often. Add to it as needed.

Remember. Make another list, this time writing events where God brought you through hard times, and into the light. Carry this list with you. Re-read often.

Obey. Live a disciple's life. Follow Jesus. We learn a lot about faith as we trust him and follow.

Worship. Live a God-honoring, God-glorifying life.

G. R. O. W.

Fear withers in an atmosphere of faith.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

From the House of Fear into the House of Love

(Linda, holding our grandson Levi)
Henri Nouwen's beautiful book Lifesigns is only $4.99 for Kindle.

Nouwen guides us from the house of fear to the house of God's love, where we fear no evil.

It's hopeful, accessible yet deep, and valuable reading when in a pandemic. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled


John 14:1 - “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Jesus' words imply that we have a responsibility for the spiritual and emotional condition of our hearts.  It appears  we can “let” our hearts be troubled. It seems there is something we can do about our troubledness, some action we can take. 

That action is: actively trusting. The antidote to inner troubledness is trust. Where there is active trust, troubledness does not exist. 

The object of our trust must be sufficient enough to alleviate our troubledness. For example, were I to take a plane across the ocean, I place my trust in: 1) the pilot (he must have sufficient training, knowledge, experience, and physical and emotional well-being; 2) the airplane (it must be structurally sufficient, have the requisite capacity of range, and so on); 3) the airplane mechanics; 4) and so on.

The question becomes: Is Jesus a sufficient object of trust? Can I trust Jesus? I only find this out by actively placing my trust in Him. All trust is learned, and earned.

Jesus continues, "You believe in God; believe also in me." (John 14:1) The Greek word we translate as "believe" is pisteuete (πιστεύετε). This can be translated as "place confidence in," or "trust in." To believe is to trust.

I place my confidence in God. I place my confidence in Jesus. I believe, therefore I trust. This means: I follow Jesus. 

There;s an old worship song called "Trust and Obey." As trust is exemplified in obedience, I discover that troubledness dissipates. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

A Praying Life Dispels Anxiety

Image result for john piippo anxiety
(Monroe County)

In Philippians 4 Paul counsels Jesus-followers to “be anxious about nothing.” (v. 6) 

The biblical Greek word for ‘anxious’ is often used in contexts where persecution is happening. For example, in Matthew 10:19, Jesus counsels his disciples: “When they arrest you, do not be anxious about what to say or how to say it.”

When Paul counsels the Philippians to not be anxious, it’s not like he’s sitting on the beach savoring a latte. He’s in prison! The context is: persecution. The Philippian Jesus-followers were suffering under opposition from their pagan neighbors, like Paul and Silas suffered when among them (Acts 16:19-24; Phil 1:28-30).

I know what anxiety is. I have experienced it in troubling times. How realistic is it to be told "Be anxious for nothing" when you are facing hard circumstances?

Paul's answer, emerging out of his experience, is found in his rich, ongoing prayer life. He writes:

Do not be anxious about anything, 
but in every situation, 
by prayer and petition, 
present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6-7

Paul's praying life is a deep vein of gold producing spiritual wealth and wellness. His praying life was ongoing. Paul prays, as was his habit, unceasingly.

Henri Nouwen reasoned that a praying life can dispel anxiety. (See Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal.) Nouwen said when he didn't pray, he was more easily filled with anxiety. But as he lived a praying life, God diminished his anxiety. 

Not praying intensifies fear This does not logically imply that the source of one's anxiety is prayerlessness, any more than thinking the cause of an infection is the lack of antibiotics. But in the act of praying we receive caregiving from the Great Physician. I experience this, often.

In everyday prayer-conferencing with God, I present my requests to him. I lay burdens before him (See 1 Peter 5:7). I have a Father God who loves me, in whom I trust. Where there is trust, there is neither worry nor anxiety. A person with a praying life grows in trust and diminishes in anxiety. A praying person discovers that trust and anxiety are inversely proportionate. 

Paul says our prayers should be accompanied “with thanksgiving.” Ben Witherington writes: “Paul believes there is much to be said for praying in the right spirit or frame of mind.” This is significant for the Roman Philippians, since pagan prayers did not include thanksgiving. Roman prayers were often fearful, bargaining prayers, not based on a relationship with some god.

Witherington adds: “Prayer with the attitude of thanksgiving is a stress-buster.” John Wesley said that  thanksgiving is the surest evidence of a soul free from anxiety.

Paul's antidote for worry and anxiety is: praying, with thanksgiving.

(I recognize that there are clinical, neurophysical conditions that cause anxiety and fear. The antidote for such conditions may be medications. But even when medications stabilize a person's emotions, issues of trust may remain. Medication will not fully help a person when the only chair they have keeps breaking, but it may help them access the spiritual help they need.

If you have severe anxiety I recommend two things:

1) Praying, and having people pray for you. 
2) Seeing a physician who is skilled in treating you physically. 

Combine spiritual intervention with medical intervention.)

Thursday, March 26, 2020


I'm speaking on a telephone conference call tonight to Redeemer's youth, plus probably some youth from 2-3 churches in New York City. Here are my rough notes for my presentation. I'm going to do my best to keep this at a youth level, yet challenging! 




    • God rules and reigns over all things; over the entire creation.
  • Paul states, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11 ESV—emphasis mine).
  • Scripture seems to indicate that God brings about, and is in control of, all natural events (Psalms 65:9-11; 135:5-7). In fact, Scripture even speaks about God’s relationship to seeming random happenings (Prov. 16:33). He even controls what the minute details of nature (Matt.10:29-30).
  • God also governs human history (2 Kgs. 19:20-28; Isa. 10:5-12, 14:24-27; Acts 17:26).

o    The goal of God is that we might come to know Him and love Him.
·         God’s goal for us is not to have us live long lives.
·                   How do we know this?
·                            The disciples died when they were young.
·                            Jesus was just 32 when he died.

    • So, God is allowing the coronavirus to happen, not causing the coronavirus to happen.

    • Genesis 3
    • People are broken.
    • The creation is broken.
    • In Gen. 3 evil enters into the world.
    • People are affected.
    • The physical world is affected.

Gen 3 - To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.Your desire will be for your husband,    and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.

Rom 8 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 
So, in a fallen, oppressed world, there are viruses. (And tornados, and hurricanes, and floods, and diseases…  )
The world is an oppressed place where things sometimes go tragically wrong.

FREE WILL – created agents have free will. This includes spiritual beings.
    • Spiritual beings have free will.
    • They have “say so.”
    • They can choose.

   Created agents have free will. This includes spiritual beings.
·         Human beings aren’t the only free agents in the universe.
·         There are angelic beings. They have free will. They can use their free will for good, or for evil.
·         Hebrews 2:14-15 - Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
·         In Luke 13, for example, Jesus comes upon a woman who has a deformed back and says, “How long should this woman, a daughter of Abraham, suffer under Satan’s oppression?” (vs. 16).
Peter summarized Jesus’ ministry in Acts 10 by saying that Jesus went about freeing people from Satan’s oppression by healing them of their diseases. In fact, the word the Gospels sometimes use for disease or infirmity is mastix, which literally means “flogging.”
For Satan and demons to be involved, on any level, with bringing about infirmities, they must be able to affect matter. And if they can affect matter to bring about human infirmities, on what basis can we argue that they can’t affect matter to bring about other aspects of nature that seem incompatible with the perfect goodness of God?
·         On top of this, we need to remember the incredible stature and authority ascribed to Satan in the New Testament.
·         He is called (among other things) the “lord” (archon) of the world (Jn 12:3114:3016:11), the principality and power of the air (Eph 2:2) and the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4).
·         He is said to control the entire world (IJn 5:19) and to own all the authority of all the kingdoms of the world (Lk 4:5-7). In this light, why should we think it impossible that this fallen archangel, along with his minions, has messed with the natural order of things?
·         Consider also that humans have the capacity to affect natural processes, for better or for worse. For several millennia we have brought about new breeds of domesticated animals, for example. And today, we’re acquiring the power (Lord help us!) to genetically engineer everything from ears to fluorescent fish. If we as intelligent free agents have the “say-so” to impact the natural order, why think spirit agents uniformly lack this capacity?
·         Luke 13
·         Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. [Pilate executes Jewish pilgrims from Galilee, cut down in the act of offering sacrifices.]
·         Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 
o    Then, Jesus reads an attempt at self-justification rooted in the common notion that disaster happens to people who deserve it.
·         But this is not the same thing as arguing that disasters come only to people who are disobedient. 
·         Jesus does not deny that sin has consequences. He does not deny that sin leads to judgment.
·         Instead, Jesus rejects the theory that people who experience disasters have necessarily been marked by God as more deserving of judgment than those who do not.
·         I tell you, no!
·         But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 
·         Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 
·         I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
·         [If someone fails to repent, judgment awaits them.]
o             Yes, judgment will happen to those who live lives of disobedience.
·         There is nothing here about God causing these disasters as a form of punishment.
·         Greg Boyd - First, his interpretation of Luke 13:1-5 assumes that God was somehow involved in Pilate’s massacre and the falling tower of Siloam. He thinks Jesus was teaching that the ultimate reason the Galileans were massacred and the tower fell on people was because “everyone deserves to die,” and Jesus was simply saying to his audience; “You’re as guilty as they are, and you’ll die too if you don’t repent.” But where in the text is there any suggestion Jesus assumed God had anything to do with either of these catastrophes?

    • God is working all things together for good, to those who love Him. Romans 8:28
      • And “good” here does not mean our personal happiness.
      • It does mean: knowing and loving God.
    • But we are not capable of seeing this. For the most part.
Here is some bad reasoning.
    • 1. As far as I can see with the coronavirus, it doesn’t look like God is working all things together for good.  
    • Therefore, God is not is not working all things together for good.
That’s false reasoning. It commits a “no-seeum fallacy.”


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

To the Church: We Are First Responders

(Me, leading worship with Michael, in Kenya)

Thank God for first responders. To paramedics, ER doctors and nurses, police officers and fire fighters, military personnel, and all rescuers - thank you! You have saved countless lives. We are indebted to you.

These first responders care for peoples' physical well-being. But who responds to the countless spiritual crises that people are in? The answer is: the Church.

Followers of Jesus are first responders to the spiritual needs of people we are in contact with. Jesus was the initial First Responder. God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to rescue and repair our lost, shattered souls. As his followers, we emulate our Rescuer.

We are Spiritual First Responders. We are the first to respond when we see someone in a spiritual crisis. That is our role in the current pandemic and economic meltdown. 

When we see someone in fear, we move towards them with the Jesus-vaccine. When we see someone who has lost their way, we go to them with the God Positioning System (GPS). 

The Real Church is the first to respond to spiritual neediness. We are deliverers of comfort and strength. We operate in the power and love of the Holy Spirit. We bring answers to anxious, agitated souls.

People need physical protection. Thank God for all who deliver this to the needy. People also need spiritual and emotional healing. That is our arena. That is when we put on the protective armor of God and bring good news of great joy to our brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Overcoming Fear - Two Sermons

Here are two sermons that may help during these turbulent times.

You can click on the PDF to follow along with the notes.

"Inner Healing of Fear, Worry, and Anxiety"

"God Has Not Given You a Spirit of Fear"  

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


Sunset, Monroe County

Here are some thoughts about worry.

Of all the things I have worried about in my life, I estimate that less than 5% have come to pass. I have spent too much time worrying about things that came to nothing.

Worry, anxiety, fear… I’ve experienced them all. You have, too. What kind of person would not worry? One answer is: someone who had their brain removed. But then, of course, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy their worry-free life.

How is it possible to have the brains we have and move into greater freedom from worry? The answer Jesus gives is this: a person who trusts in God would not worry. “Trust” and “worry” do not go together. 

Jesus speaks about this in Matthew 6:25-34. Slow down and re-listen to these words.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. 
Are you not much more valuable than they? 
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 
And why do you worry about clothes? 
See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.


Worrying adds nothing to our lives. I’ve read studies that claim worrying actually subtracts from the days of one’s life. Worrying is non-productive. Worry, anxiety, and fear immobilize, and lead to non-action. Worrying makes worrisome situations worse. If today you are worried about something, rest assured that “worry” will not make the situation better and, in some cases, will make it worse because of the resultant non-activity.

2. Trusting in God will lead to basic needs being provided. We must distinguish between basic needs, and personal wants and desires. I have found myself, at times, worrying about something that I don’t even really need. This is a true waste of emotional time and energy!

3. Some run after material things as a cure for worry. But even acquisition can be worrisome. Richard Foster, in A Celebration of Discipline, argues that the more material things a person has, the more things they have to worry about. 

Here I am reminded of research I’ve done on materialistic cultures and levels of anxiety. Dr. David Augsburger wrote a brilliant study showing how some cultures, who have little materially, do not have a lexical entry for “anxiety,” because the condition is nonexistent. These cultures are tribal. In them, the community absorbs the worry. 

Thankfulness is an antidote to worry. I have found that when I am thankful for what I have, rather than needing to have more things to be thankful for, I am more at peace in myself.

“Worry” is the tip of an iceberg. Melt off the tip, and more surfaces. To get rid of the tip, get rid of the entire iceberg. 

Spiritually, this is about our heart. I am asking God to heal my heart that is still too consumed with the cares of this world. Only then can He use me to help others with their cares and concerns. The more self-obsessive I am, the less good I am to others.

Here are some things to get help and healing from worry.

- Keep a spiritual journal. Write down your fears and worries, and give them to God. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.”

- Re-read your journal periodically. Remembering how God has been with you in the past gives hope for the present.

- Saturate your heart, soul, and mind with God-things. Do not let the news surrounding the reporting of the pandemic occupy every room of your heart. I have found that when I make it my first priority to fill my heart and mind with God-things, I gain an eternal perspective on world-things. While the coronavirus is real, surely some of the fears accompanying it will not happen.

- Separate your real needs from your mere wants. Observe how our American materialistic culture works to create false needs within us that lead to false anxiety over a) either not having such things, or b) over having them and needing to care for them, protect them, store them, worship them, etc.

- Follow Jesus more intently and more intensely. Read Matthew 25 about what Jesus says in regard to helping the poor and needy. Take His words seriously and move towards others. As you begin doing this, you will find that your own cares and worries diminish.

- Make a list of blessings you are thankful for. Carry it with you, pull it out occasionally, and re-read it.

Trust God. Trust is not an emotion, but an action. Trust in God and worry cannot coexist in the same human heart.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Praying, Burden-throwing, and the Coronavirus

(Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio)

I go to a time of praying today carrying a list of burdens. People send me prayer requests. It is an honor to shoulder these burdens in prayer today. 

These are heavy times around the world, with the fear and panic caused by the coronavirus. And, I have my own burdened heart? What shall I do with these burdens? Here is what I wrote in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Yesterday afternoon I went to my solitary praying place at Sterling State Park on Lake Erie. I was carrying pages of burdens. I sat on the shores of the lake and read through these prayer requests that were sent to me. I prayed through them. 

These requests included many cares and anxieties. In my mind I took every one of them and threw them on God, following 1 Peter 5:7, which directs me to “throw” my cares and anxieties on him, because he cares about me

The word “throw” translates the Greek word epiripsantes. It means “to throw upon,” or “to cast upon.” We see epiripsantes in Luke 19:35: “They brought it [the colt] to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.” 

Anxieties work to “devour” me and eat my soul away. Unattended to, they are toxic to my heart. So, in my praying, I engage in care-casting. I throw burdens on Jesus, like a rider throws his saddle on a horse. 

The Amplified Bible reads: 

Cast the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, 
for He cares for you affectionately 
and cares about you watchfully. 

This is praying as constant detoxification. I do this each day, multiple times. Scot McKnight writes: 

"Peter exhorts God’s people to express a simple confidence in God’s justice. By turning over our fears and worries to God, we express our trust in him and rely on him to bring about vindication and justice. The reason for turning over fears to God is because “he cares for you.”" 

Cares and anxieties are rooted in devil-inspired injustices meant to weigh me down, discourage me, and ultimately devour me. I therefore engage in regular deburdening as an act of world-rebellion, and a refusal to shoulder this world’s injustices on my own. 

I cast my cares on the LORD and he will sustain me; 
he will never let me be shaken.

Psalm 55:22; personalized

Monday, March 16, 2020

Churches Produce a Vaccine Called "Hope"

(Ludington State Park)

Church is meant to gather together. "Church" means: the gathered followers of Jesus, all who live with Jesus as their Lord.

You don't "go to church." If you are a Jesus-follower, you are the church. 

Yesterday was Sunday. Some of us at Redeemer were able to meet together. Others watched from home as we live-streamed on Facebook. For me this was important, because I need to be with my people. The more I am separated from them, the harder life is for me.

Where there is separation, fear increases. Where there is isolation, irrationality works to take over. Like the Trinity, persons created in God's image are hard-wired for community.

What if I contract the coronavirus? Then I'll self-quarantine until I am no longer infectious. But there is another kind of virus that is spiritual and emotional. It's loneliness. Loneliness, and its offspring fear and irrationality, is the cost of staying away.

Last Friday's New York Times had an essay entitled "Coronavirus and the Isolation Paradox." "Social distancing" is required to prevent infection. But loneliness can make us sick. Even apart from the coronavirus, we live with an epidemic of loneliness. Now, it is getting worse. The results, if isolation is unchecked, will be more fear, more irrationality, and more dis-ease.

The article states:

"More than three in five working Americans report feeling lonely. Now that the country is facing a disease outbreak that demands measures like “social distancing,” working from home and quarantines, that epidemic of loneliness could get even worse.
A paradox of this moment is that while social distancing is required to contain the spread of the coronavirus, it may also contribute to poor health in the long run. So while physical isolation will be required for many Americans who have Covid-19 or have been exposed to it, it’s important that we don’t let such measures cause social and emotional isolation, too."
A few days ago a spokesperson for the World Health Organization said, "Let hope be an antidote to fear." I agree. But those are empty words if churches cannot meet. The heartbeat of Real Church is being together, with Jesus in our midst. Here, for me, is where voices of faith and hope arise, and function like spiritual and emotional vaccine for my soul.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

A Pastor and the Coronavirus

(Redeemer sanctuary, where this Sunday I will be with many of my people.)

I have been a pastor for fifty years.

A pastor is a shepherd of people. A shepherd stays in close contact with the flock. 

A pastor loves the people. A pastor connects with the people. This includes, many times, being with them when they are sick. A pastor does not avoid the sick, or isolate themselves from the sick.

I was taught this in seminary. We all took training in caring for hospital patients. I was assigned several months in the cardiac unity at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. I will never forget one patient. He was a man in his twenties, facing life-or-death open heart surgery. I spend many hours in his hospital room - before and after surgery. He survived. We became friends. I was his pastor. I am so thankful God placed me there!

I have been called into the homes and hospital rooms of countless sick people. Sometimes I've had to wear a protective mask and gloves. The rare times I do not get close to the sick is when I am sick. I don't want to infect an already-suffering person.

I have done many international trips. Once, in India, I was speaking to two thousand people. After my sermon, I called people forward for prayer. Hundreds came forward. Then, out of the mass of bodies, a hand reached out and grabbed my hand. The hand was blotched. The fingers were gone. It was the hand of a leper.

What do I do with this? All I could think of was that Jesus got close to lepers and prayed for their healing. Am I not to do this? I had read stories of missionaries who contracted diseases and died, all for the sake of bringing Jesus to people. While the religious leaders in the time of Jesus isolated and quarantined lepers and stayed clear of them, sick people flocked to Jesus for healing and hope. A pastor is like that. This is part of my calling.

At Redeemer, we pray for sick people all the time. They come forward at the end of the service, and many pray for them. We get close to them. With their permission, we touch them. (This is called PIP - proximal intercessory prayer. See Dr. Candy Brown, Testing Prayer: Science and Healing.) 

Before and after praying for sick people, I sanitize my hands. But I am a pastor, and I must sanitize my heart as well. The prayer of a sanitized heart is powerful and effective. So, I go to my people in their need. I love them, and they need me. I've been doing this for fifty years, and am not about to abandon them now, even if they may have the coronavirus. 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Defeating Fear of the Coronavirus

(Holland, Michigan)

Have I ever felt afraid? Of course.

After our twin son David was stillborn, and our surviving twin Josh was fighting for his life, I had moments of fear. Fear is the emotion a person feels when facing something bad that is happening or is about to happen. Fear is the emotion I feel when my well being, and that of those I love, is threatened.

To fear is to feel unprotected.

Today a tiny virus is expanding its kingdom of fear, with mighty human institutions bowing before its path. What shall we do? Keep following normal precautions, such as sanitizing your hands, often. If you feel sick, stay home, isolated from the public. Follow guidelines like these.

Beyond that, what can I do? Here is where I have found my faith functioning as a shelter in the storms of life.

Consider Jesus' disciples, in their fishing boat, on the Sea of Galilee. A "furious storm" assaults them. The waves are sweeping over the boat. And Jesus is sleeping.

I think of my trip to India. I'm riding in the back seat of a car, being transported from Hyderabad to Kurnool. A five-hour car ride, that brought me a lot of fear. Many times I thought the driver would hit another car, or go off the road. To me, his driving was reckless. I was dead tired from a long flight, but could not sleep. Several times I turned to look at my Indian friend who invited me on this trip. Each time, he was sleeping like a newborn baby. Obviously, he had no fear.

Unable to take the storm any longer, Jesus' disciples - experienced fishermen - woke Jesus up, begging for help. Jesus wakes, and asks them, "Why are you so afraid?" Had I been in that boat I would have answered, "I'll tell you why. We are going to drown!"

Jesus responds by getting up and rebuking the wind and waves, as if they were demon-inspired. Upon which the waters calm down. Jesus' disciples were amazed, and ask, "What kind of man is this?"

When our son Joshua was going under, I prayed and told God, "If you will allow him to live, I shall never have such fear again." Josh lived. And while I have had bouts of fear since then, I remember how Jesus brought Linda and I through this terrible storm.

What kind of man is this, who is with us in the furious storms of life? His name is Jesus. And we are His followers, people of faith, who love Him, and in whom He works all things together for good.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

You Have Authority Over Any Storm You Can Sleep In

(Linda gave me this, for Christmas)

If I wore a badge and a uniform and was hired to serve our community as a police officer, then I could stop traffic. I would step onto the street, wearing my uniform and badge, raise my hand, and traffic would stop, without even saying the word "Stop!" I could do this because I had real authority.

Because of the authority conferred to me, I would not be in some big inner panic about this. I wouldn't be wondering, "How could this traffic be halted!!!" I'd be at peace about this, precisely because, in this situation, I had the authority to stop traffic when needed.

Jesus had authority. Matthew 8:23-25 reads:

23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

Jesus is sleeping through the "furious storm" that whipped up on the Sea of Galilee.

26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

Bill Johnson says: “Jesus released peace to the storm. How do we know He had peace? He was sleeping. You have authority over any storm you can sleep in.” 

27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Even more amazing is the reality that Jesus confers his authority on all who follow after him. That's you, if you are a Jesus-follower. (See Luke 9 & 10, for example.)

To learn more about this kind of authority read: I Give You Authority: Practicing the Authority Jesus Gave Us, by Fuller Theological Seminary Professor Charles Kraft.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Trust As the Cure for Anxiety & Fear

Image result for john piippo trust
(Downstairs office in our home)
(I'm re-posting this for someone.)

I bought a new chair for my home office. I had the previous chair for twenty years. I trusted it. I knew it would hold me. Therefore, I felt no anxiety when I thought about sitting on it. 

Trust and anxiety do not live together. The more trust, the anxiety. To purely trust would be to be anxious for nothing. It would be contradictory to say, "I trust the chair I'm sitting in, but am afraid it won't hold me." Where there is trust, there is no fear.

There are objects of significant trust, and objects of insignificant trust. Objects of significant trust affect us; objects of insignificant trust have no effect. I may not trust the motives of the present King of France (nonexistent anyway), but my mistrust does not cause me anxiety or fear, because I am unaffected by his actions. I place no trust in the present King of France. But, my mistrust of our economy can cause me to wonder whether or not I will have sufficient funds to meet my needs in retirement. 

This can breed anxiety and fear. To not have control over an object of significant trust causes fear. The more a person needs to be in control the less their capacity to trust. The person who is mostly filled with anxiety and fear is the person who does not *trust, or whose trust is misplaced. 

There is a cumulative effect that results from a lifetime of trusting in God. A psychological confidence, a certitude, emerges. It is like the confidence one gains as a result of sitting in the same chair for twenty years, and finding that, through it all, it still holds. This is not illusory. I have met people who experience this. I have been at the bedside of these God-trusters as they lay dying. You have to be there to see the reality of this. 

The one who places their trust in God experiences less anxiety. Therefore...

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don't lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God. And God will make straight your paths.

- Proverbs 3:5-6


*I recognize there are clinical, neurophysiological conditions that cause anxiety and fear. The antidote for such conditions may be medications. But even when medications stabilize a person's moods, issues of trust may remain. Medication will not help a person when the only chair they have keeps breaking.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020


Our Home

(I'm re-posting this for someone who asked.)

Fear is a lie.

For the most part.

Most things I have feared never came to pass. In that sense, fear is a lie.

There are real fears. Some things we were made to fear. This is how God designed us. This kind of fear protects us. These are rational fears.

But many of our fears are irrational. Yet the emotion of fear is just as real. The more fearful a person is, the more they interpret the events of life through the lens of fear. They are dominated by mistrust, controlled by self-preservation. 

One thing I do to combat fear (yes, I can get fearful) is meditate on biblical truths. The more I read and say them over and over, the more they descend from my mind into my heart.

As the apostle Paul said, "Whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is beautiful, think on these things." (Philippians 4:8)

Read these words. Take them in. Memorize some of them.

33 Verses to Remind Us - We Do Not Have to Fear:

1.  “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
2.  “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3
3.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
4.  “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14:27
5.  “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
6.  “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18
7.  “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” Psalm 94:19
8.  “But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1
9.  “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” Proverbs 12:25
10. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
11. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
12. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34
13. “Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time.  Leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7
14. “Tell everyone who is discouraged, Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” Isaiah 35:4
15. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:22-26
16. “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1
17. “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” Psalm 55:22
18. “Immediately he spoke to them and said, 'Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'” Mark 6:50

19. “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
20. “'For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you,' declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 41:13-14
21. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
22. “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?  The Lord is with me; he is my helper.” Psalm 118:6-7
23. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Proverbs 29:25
24. “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Mark 4:39-40
25. “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” Psalm 34:7
26. “But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.” 1 Peter 3:14
27. “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.  He freed me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4
28. “Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.” Deuteronomy 3:22
29. “Then he placed his right hand on me and said: 'Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.'” Revelation 1:17
30. “Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’” Mark 5:36
31. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Romans 8:38-39
32. “The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” Zephaniah 3:17

33. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”…He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.  You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.  A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you…For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways…“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.  He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him…” from Psalm 91:1-16

Monday, March 02, 2020

Living Faithfully In the Discomfort Zone

Image result for john piippo comfort
(Downtown Detroit)

On occasion I hear someone speak about their "comfort zone." Like: "Sorry, but what God wants me to do is out of my comfort zone."

The comfort zone is the environment where they feel safe. This is the place of little discomfort. This is a utilitarian approach to life; viz., do what gives me the most comfort most of the time, and the least pain most of the time.

This is the American H-god. It's "Happiness" - "Clap along if you think that happiness is the truth, Because I'm happy." (See The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being. See also: "If Everything Is So Amazing, Why's Nobody Happy?") I don't even know what "Happiness is the truth" means.

The idea of a "comfort zone" is a recent European and North American invention. It has nothing to do with God's plans and purposes. (See Happiness Industry - the "comfort zone" is rooted in the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham.) Yes, we find great promises of peace and rest throughout the Scriptures. No, you will not find comfort zone maintenance there.

In Scripture we see that what really pleases God is "faith." We are told that without faith it is impossible to please God. "Faith" and "comfort zone" do not overlap. We do not read the book of Hebrews saying, By faith Abraham stayed in his comfort zone.

If we stay in our comfort zones, it will be impossible to please God. Faith entails going into places and situations and human lives where, to be honest, we would rather not go. (See here, e.g.) Faith moves from comfort to discomfort. That is its nature. Jesus may tie a belt around you and take you where you don't want to go. (See here.)

"Faith" is RISK. Obedience by faith escorts us into the Discomfort Zone for the Cause of Christ. Think of missionaries. Then, think of yourself as a missionary, planted where you are. 

As Jesus died on the cross he was bleeding in the Zone of Universal Discomfort, for you and I. He was not there to furnish our man-caves with decorative crosses. He calls us to a life of faith that is accomplished by cross-bearing, within the enemy territory of this world's present darkness. We move out of the comfort zone and into the fire.

In Revelation 14:4 we read about the martyrs who refused to worship the beast: They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. It was uncomfortable. Their suffering was redemptive. 

If we give our lives to Jesus as Lord he will own us, tie a belt around our waist, and lead us into places we would rather not go. He will increase the borders of our comfort zone to those of his kingdom.

My two books are:

I'm working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

I'm almost done editing Encounters With the Holy Spirit.

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

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Grief - Some Resources

(Sterling State Park - Lake Erie)

Here are some posts I have written about grief and loss.

Grieving the Loss of a Child