Monday, August 31, 2020

IDENTITY #4: From Persona to Personhood


                                       (Mears State Park, Michigan)

In the absence of God,
 people are left alone to create their identities.

"A persona, in the word everyday usage, is a social role or a character played by an actor. This is an Italian word that derives from the Latin for "mask" or "character", derived from the Etruscan word "phersu", with the same meaning. Popular etymology derives the word from Latin "per" meaning "through" and "sonare" meaning "to sound", meaning something in the vein of "that through which the actor speaks", i.e. a mask (early Greek actors wore masks)." (Wikipedia, "Persona")

AKA - the false self; "hypocrite" ("mask-wearer"); fake; phony

The real self; who you really are; the "true self," made in the image of God

Thirty-eight years ago I was sitting on the seat of a rusty tractor in the middle of a field, in a wildlife area, just north of Lansing, Michigan. I went there to pray. For several hours. That was one of the first times I did this kind of extended praying. It turned out to be the beginning of something new God was doing in me.

I was reading Psalm 139. I got to verses 23-24, which read:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

The thought came that I should ask God to do this. To search me out. 

My heart was filled with restlessness. All the busy stuff I was doing only seemed to increase my inner agitation. So I said to God, "Do it." 

God told me, "John, I would love to. You need to spend much time with me, over a lifetime, so I can search you out, remove your anxious thoughts, and lead you in the way everlasting."

"John, you can take off the persona." 

Maintaining a persona is hard work. I did some acting in my college theater department, and it takes a lot out of a person. God told me, "John, I don't care for the mask; it is you that I love." So, before God, I allowed him to peel away the persona and get to me. This is a process, and continues to this day.

It was both hard and good to hear God say those words to me. It was hard, because my persona was something I was accustomed to. To remove the mask was to enter into new territory. It produced, initially, feelings of wanting to hide from God. 

It was also good. Looking into the face of my all-loving God, with hidden parts of me exposed, was fear-and-trembling good! It still feels unbelievable. God knows me, God searches me out, God sees to the root of my being, God knows my true heart. And God loves me? Unbelievable, yet true.

When we wear our persona-mask before people we lie to them. In our inner insecurity and unlovableness we posture before people. We brag. We create and display our persona on Facebook. We are pity-filled. We crave human approval, and fear disapproval. We want others to recognize our hotness. We want to be hotter than thou.

This gets subtle, as I know personally. At times my caring for others has been a mask that hides my need for them to approve of me. True personhood, on the other hand, cares and loves others, whether one benefits from this or not.

That... is freedom. To know God and be known by him. To love God and experience God's love towards us, personally. This is not some theoretical thing, but an experiential reality. In this regard experience, not theory, breeds conviction.

You are loved by God. Go to him.

Ask God to search out your heart, remove the persona, and transform you into the person he has created you to be. Which is: in his image.

My two books are

 Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I am now writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Abiding in Christ (Video)

Pastor to Pastor - UTS - John Piippo - Abide in Christ - 2013.9.21 - Part 1 from Urbana Theological Seminary on Vimeo.


See my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

Sunday, August 30, 2020



Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries (HSRM) is very excited to announce the upcoming online Renewal School of Ministry (RSOM), beginning in mid-September! We’re inviting you to participate in this unique opportunity to learn and grow spiritually and to become better equipped for the ministry God is calling you to. Take classes for credit toward a Certificate of Completion or audit classes if that meets your personal needs and interests.

The courses for Fall 2020 Terms 1 and 2 are listed below. Click on the course title for the course descriptions.


1.      Growing in the Ministry of Healing/Pastor Ross Lieuallen – 

Sundays, 8pm ET/5pm PT--(Sept 13 to October 18)

2.       How God Changes the Human Heart/Dr. John Piippo 

  Mondays, 8pm ET/5pm PT -- (Sept 14 to Oct 19)

3.       The Introduction to Theology #1/Pastor Ed Owens 

Tuesdays, 8pm ET/5pm PT--(Sept 15 to Oct 20)

4.       The Holy Spirit and the Spirit-filled Life/ Dr. Clayton Ford 

Thursdays, 8pm ET/5pmPT-- (Sept 17 to Oct 22)


1.       Soul Health/Pastor Pamela Wantz 

Sundays, 8pm ET/5pmPT-- (Nov 1 to Dec 6)

2.       Christian Worldview/Pastor Peter Conlin 

Mondays, 8pm ET/5pmPT-- (Nov 2 to Dec 7)

3.      The Introduction to Theology #2/Pastor Ed Owens 

Tuesdays, 8pm ET/5pmPT --(Nov 3 to Dec 8)

4.       Foundations of Biblical Worship/Pastor Norelle Lutke & Guest Worship Leaders Thursdays, 8pm ET/5pmPT --(Nov 5 to Dec 10)


Course Times/Dates: Classes will be a 1.5 hour Zoom meeting for six weeks on the same night each week starting at 8 pm ET / 7 pm CT / 6 pm MT / 5 pm PT. Currently there are classes scheduled for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Requirements for Credit: To receive credit for a course students will need to:

•     Attend every live Zoom session

•     Participate in the class discussions

One absence is permitted as long as the student makes arrangements to watch the Zoom replay.

In addition to the 6-week courses, we will also provide online specialized focus seminars and conference experiences for credits toward certification.

Exceptions to Requirements for Credit: If a student wishes to enroll in a particular class but is unable to attend the live streaming sessions due to personal scheduling issues the student has these options:

Special Arrangements: If credit toward certification is desired course instructors may offer to make special arrangements for alternative approaches to receive credit for their class. Inquiry about this should be made to individual instructors .

Auditing: Follow the online enrollment process provided in the link and choose the auditing option provided. All Zoom sessions will be recorded and auditing students will be given access codes for replay on demand. (Auditing results in no credit given toward Certificate of Completion.)

Cost:  The cost to participate in RSOM is so low it is astounding! You’ll be charged a fee of $10 per course, or a maximum of $25 for all courses taught per six-week term.  It is our desire to make these courses accessible to all.                 


1. Successfully complete six Foundation courses 2. Successfully complete three Inward Courses 3. Successfully complete three Upward Courses 4. Successfully complete three Outward Courses 5. Participate in any offered online HSRM events 6. Write a three to five-page paper describing how you will use your new knowledge and your certificate 7. Meet with members of HSRM for discussion and feedback about your paper.

If you are interested in signing up or having questions answered fill in the short form below and you will be contacted.



Saturday, August 29, 2020

If I Loved, Everything Would Change


(Linda, on Weko Beach, Bridgman, Michigan)

Saturday morning. 

I'm reading from the Gospel of Matthew, to begin my day.

If someone attacks me, am I to attack them back? Should I respond to them as they have done unto me?

For followers of Jesus, the answer is clear. He said:

"Don’t repay an evil act with another evil act. But whoever insults you by slapping you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well." (TPT)

So, obviously, when I pay back with an evil act, what I am  doing is anti-Jesus. That's clear. I see what I am not to do. I am not to do unto others as they have done unto me. 

But what should I do? That's clear, too. I am to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I am to love them, from the heart.

Jesus said,

"Love your enemy, bless the one who curses you, do something wonderful for the one who hates you, and respond to the very ones who persecute you by praying for them. For that will reveal your identity as children of your heavenly Father." (TPT)

Here is the real Jesus, the a-cultural Jesus, the revolutionary Jesus, for His is a revolution of love.

His counsel, his strategy, is simple, and brilliant. 

Simply brilliant. 

Everything about me and around me would change if I, one of Jesus' followers, would do this, from my heart. 

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Square One

Aslan brings Edmund back to Square One
When a person loses their way we sometimes hear them say, “I’ve got to get back to “square one.” For them “square one” means something like: the place of origin; the place where it all began; the beginning place from where the journey began; and so on. Square one is: the beginning. 

Eugene Peterson, in Subversive Spirituality, uses the idea of “square one” to make some spiritual points.

Peterson writes: 

“Square One is the place from which we begin learning how to live with Absence with the same ease with which we have come to live with Presence. The generic word that we use for this is Faith – in its classic and never yet improved upon definition, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).” (Subversive Spirituality, 18)

“The characteristic element of Square One is this: God said. When we live at Square One “the absolutely indispensable word that we learn is: God.” 

When we “return to Square One,” we return not only to a realization that God or of God, but to a listening. Listening to what God says. “God said.” (23) Everything meaningful, relevant, and authentic follows from this. 

At Square One it’s not about spiritual chatter, or spiritual platitudes, or talking “Christian-eze.” It is a being-addressed, a being-talked-to, by God. This is not about us talking, or even bragging about our spiritual experiences and accomplishments, but about “listening to God call us, heal us, forgive us.” (27) Peterson writes:

“This is hard to get into our heads. We talk habitually to ourselves and about ourselves. We don’t listen. If we do listen to each other it is almost always with the purpose of getting something we can use in our turn. Much of our listening is a form of politeness, courteously waiting our turn to talk about ourselves. But in relation to God especially we must break the habit and let him speak to us. God not only is; God Says. Christian spirituality, in addition to being an attentive spirituality, is a listening spirituality.” (27)

Christian spirituality begins with God. God speaks. We listen. We respond. In obedience. 

To not listen to God is to not respond to him. One can’t respond to a voice they don’t even hear. “Non-listening obedience” is self-contradictory. Henri Nouwen has pointed out that the word “obedience,” from the Latin ob + audire, contains the idea of “listening” (audire, from which we get “audio”). An audiologist tests our hearing. Of course if we cannot hear then we cannot be expected to obey. Not to be in a continual listening-relationship to God is to be in perpetual dis-audire; dis-obedience. If that’s the case, it’s time to get back to Square One, the place of listening, the place where God Says.

I love how Peterson expands on this as he describes the causal efficacy of God Says. He writes:

“Something remarkable takes place when we return to Square One, to the place of adoration and listening – a terrific infusion of energy within us; a release of adrenaline in our souls which becomes obedience. The reason is that the word that God speaks to us is the kind of word that makes things happen. When God speaks it is not in order to give us information on the economy so that we will know how to do our financial planning. When God speaks it is not as a fortune teller, looking into our personal future and satisfying curiosity regarding our romantic prospects or the best horse to bet on. No, when God speaks it is not in explanation of all the things that we have not been able to find answers to from our parents or in books or from reading tea leaves. God’s Word is not, in essence, information or gossip or explanation. God’s Word makes things happen – he makes something happen in us. The imperative is a primary verb form in Holy Scripture: “Let there be light… Go… Come… Repent… Believe… Be still… Be healed… Get up… Ask… Love… Pray…” (28)

And the consequence, the intended result, of God Says is obedience. “I will run in the way of your commandments, when you give me understanding.” (Ps. 119:32) Peterson says:

“Yes, run. Square One, with its attentiveness and listening, is that place of understanding – we know who we are and where we are… and who God is and where he is. At that place and in that condition, there is an inward gathering and concentration of energy that on signal from God’s imperative expresses itself in, precisely, obedience – running in the way of God’s commandments.” (28)

Get back to Square One. Stay there.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Where Real Church Meets, and What Happens


(Somewhere in Israel)

Most people in my church family have known, for decades (because we have been taught), that real "church" is not a building. Nor is it an "institution."

There's an old worship song my church was singing before I came 28 years ago. It's called "We Are Your Church." If you are from Redeemer and remember that song, raise your hand high - right now - so I can see it.  The people are the living stones that make up church. Yes!

Years ago Linda and I were in Singapore, eating dinner with Pastor Albert Kang, after I preached before his church. We were talking about Christianity. Albert leaned over the table and said, “Christianity is a movement, not an institution.” 

That’s correct.

When I hear people say things like, “church is boring,” they may be referring to the “institutional church,” not Church As a Movement. 

I’ve been on the inside of the institutional church, and it’s a struggle. The institutional church is political, bureaucratic, hierarchized, top-down, and slow to move. Pastors and priests of institutional churches are often viewed as butlers who are there to please parishioners.

The church we see in the New Testament was nothing like this. There, the word “church” meant a “people called out to follow after God,” rather than a governmental structure, and definitely not associated with a building.

“Church” has nothing, essentially, to do with buildings. Some churches meet in buildings, but they don’t need to. Historically, for the first 400 years of Church, the people met in homes, maybe in caves, maybe outside, like Jesus did. When Jesus stood on the hill that descended to the Sea of Galilee, giving his Sermon on the Mount (he didn't have a title for his message), he wasn't disappointed because his message would be so much nicer if he was giving it in a building.

I'm not against buildings. I thank God for the beautiful facility we have. Who really wants to meet outside in January, in Michigan. But, I am against an edifice complex, and associating church with any physical structure.

The Real Church is like an army, ready, alert, on the move, and flexible. If you are thinking, "That's not my church," then perhaps "That's not church."

“Church” is about people, not buildings or political institutions. The real Church is revolutionary; the institutional church is often a reflection of its culture’s institutions. Even non-institutional churches like Entertainment Consumer-Driven Attractional churches mirror our entertainment consumer-driven attractional culture. When that happens, I don't think it's church.

Institutional churches “vote” on things, like what color the curtains should be in the nursery. (Institutional churches have split over this kind of thing!) I hate to burst your bubble, but the word “vote” only appears once in the actual Bible. It’s in Acts 26:9-11, when Paul talks about his former Christian-persecuting life and how he would “cast his vote” to punish Christians. (There's a difference between a "voting" church and a "discerning" church. See here, e.g.)

“Church” is not something you “go to” on Sundays. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are the “church.” How head-swimmingly odd to say, “I’m going to church today.” This is equivalent to saying, “I’m going to myself today.” Sounds self-serving, doesn’t it? Think about it.

The next time someone asks you, “Where’s your church at?”, point to yourself. You are the church. This doesn’t change, even if you lose your building. Even if you don't now meet in a building. Even if you meet in a building.

The followers of Jesus, his disciples, are the church. Jesus is our Lord. Jesus is on a mission. The mission is about his kingdom, and introducing others to it. “Christians” are people who follow after Jesus. They don’t “vote” for Jesus; they follow him. This is good, because two thousand years ago a mob in Jerusalem put their thumbs down to saving Jesus.

In the process, in Real Church, 

sex addicts get free of their addiction, 

prostitutes find the love of God, 

marriages get reconciled, 

drifters find a home, 

the homeless and hungry get cared for, 

children get to keep their biological parents, 

life takes on meaning, 

fetuses get nurtured,

hope gets restored, 

paradigms get shifted, 

and, one discovers the glorious presence of God. 

Nothing can separate a person from that - not famine, not a pandemic, not nakedness, not persecution, not the lack of a building, not the economy...

Not even death. 

That’s Church. 

“Boring” is not the word to describe it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Paul's Experience of the "Third Heaven"

It's Tuesday morning. I'm listening to Mark Isham's Pure Mark Isham, one of my go-to albums.

I'm reading Origin's essays on prayer, in Bernard McGinn's The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. Origin writes:

"The grace of God..., through the co-operation of the Spirit, makes possible through his will things which are to our rational and mortal nature impossible. For they are very great, and beyond man's compass, and far transcend our mortal condition." (In McGinn, 82)

I have called such things non-discursive experiences.

Then, Origin refers to 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, where someone is "caught up to the third heaven."

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 
And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, 
things that no one is permitted to tell.

What does that mean?

Craig Keener has a section on this in the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Craig writes:

  • The context suggests that "this man" was the apostle Paul himself, writing in the third person, since he does not want to brag about his experience.
  • "Some Greek thinkers expected the pure and unencumbered soul at death to rise to heaven, and so sought to practice contemplation on the pure heavens beforehand."
  • "Some Jewish thinkers tried to mystically cultivate visions of God’s heavenly throne, e.g., by depriving themselves of food and sleep, by meditation, and so on."
  • Paul was "caught up," meaning he did not program this experience.
  • Many Jews at that time believed there were several levels of heaven, and "paradise" (God's presence) was in one of them. (Ancient estimates range from 3 to 365 levels of heaven.)

  • "The most common views were three and seven heavens; the realm of air and the birds was a lower heaven. Paul apparently identified paradise as in the “third heaven” (v.   2), probably meaning the highest heaven, where God is."
  • Paul has a direct, unmediated experience in God's presence, that is too sacred to tell. (Which now makes me wonder about people who claim such experiences, desire to talk about them so quickly, and write books to tell everyone about them. Perhaps they have not been in God's presence, hearing "inexpressible things?")
  • Monday, August 24, 2020



    Renewal School of Ministry
    Where Knowledge, Experience and Holy Spirit Combine to Form Disciples
    Now is the time!
    For the first time in the history of Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries we are entering a new phase of ministry as we open our online and on-demand Renewal School of Ministry. Lifelong-learners will benefit from the collective experience and expertise of HSRM's leaders as they are freshly empowered by God's Spirit while reinforcing their biblical foundations.
    Now is the time ! God's guidance to begin RSOM couldn't have come at a more strategic time than now in the year 2020. The times we find ourselves in -- times of cultural decay and great tumult -- are a time for Christians to engage and advance the Kingdom of God remembering our first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God and that Jesus is the ultimate answer for the world today!

    Now is the time! If we don't advance the Kingdom, who will? The world certainly won't! Christians must courageously press forward prepared with truth, love, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. To gain wisdom from God we need to see things from God's point of view. How do we do that? By immersing ourselves in the whole counsel of God's word and by deepening our relationship with Him.

    Now is the time! We can be wise with the wisdom that matters most! 1 Cor. 3:18-20 states, "Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age , he should become a 'fool' so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight." Would you know what a "standard of this age" is when you see it? It's time to get prepared to know the difference, and RSOM classes will help prepare you.

    Now is the time! There is a harvest of souls ready to be harvested. Many Christians have a prophetic sense that a new Great Awakening to Christ is coming. It will be "all hands on deck" to harvest souls and disciple new believers!

    Now is the time! We invite you to register today for Renewal School of Ministry classes. We are a movement with a calling to inspire and equip people of all ages. The school has been formed to be a resource to every believer, young or "old." No matter your age it is always a good time to press into more of the Lord, to grow deeper and stronger. It's never too late. We have a mandate to impart the unique spiritual deposit in Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries to the next generation of God's sons and daughters -- to empower them to follow the Lord in discipleship -- in truth, love and power.
    Interested in helping in this mission to Empower the Church to Fulfill Her Destiny in Christ? We would greatly appreciate you prayer support! And, your financial gifts are always greatly appreciated as they support the ongoing work of ministry!
    Thank you, and may God bless you and keep you!

    How I Am Beginning This Day - 8/24/20


    7 AM. 

    I start this day with two devotional books.

    I read the daily entry from Faith That Matters: 365 Devotionals from Classic Christian Leaders. In today's entry Brennan Manning tells me this: “Once you come to know the love of Jesus Christ, nothing else in the world will seem beautiful or desirable.”

    These words slow me down. Yes. I read the same idea, recently, in Becket Cook's book

    Next, I open Hearing God Through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional. Dallas Willard quotes John 3:3.

    “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3 NRSV). 

    Willard adds, "Without this birth we cannot recognize God’s workings: we do not possess the appropriate faculties and equipment."

    I have been "born from above." One result, immediately, was that I began to experience the ethics of Jesus. (See, e.g., here.) Today I am reminded of this, and give thanks. 

    I then open to Proverbs 31. For months I have been slow-cooking in Proverbs. Sometimes I can only handle one verse. Proverbs is epistemically thick.

    I stop at 31:10-11.

    A wife of noble character who can find? 

    She is worth far more than rubies. 

    Her husband has full confidence in her 

    and lacks nothing of value.

    I have found her.

    My last stop, this morning, is Matthew chapters 5-7. Yesterday morning, at Redeemer, I issued a renewed call to discipleship. I asked people to respond by coming forward. I handed each person a paper, containing an assignment. 

    This week, slow-cook in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. If God speaks to you, email me what you are hearing. (

    I'm joining this movement.

    I open to Matthew 5.

    Jesus' disciples came to him,

    and he began to teach them.

    I came to him fifty years ago. This morning, I find myself still sitting at his feet.

    Friday, August 21, 2020

    The Rhythm of My Spiritual Life Is a Rolling Circle

    When I became a follower of Jesus fifty years ago (!!!) I was an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University. I began to attend a campus ministry. I was asked if I wanted to be in a Small Group for Bible study and prayer. I was told this experience would be one of the keys to my spiritual vitality and growth.

    That proved true. I've been in a Small Group all fifty years of my Christian life. Linda and I have been in a Small Group Community all the years of our marriage (forty-seven years together!).

    The early Jesus-followers met in small groups; in homes, in upper rooms, wherever they could find a gathering place. Small Group Community was essential to the explosive spiritual and numerical growth of the early church. It's also essential to my spiritual life and growth.

    The rhythm of my spiritual life looks like this:

    I meet alone with God. I spend time with God in "the secret place." 
    This is the Very Small Group (VSG) - God and I.

    I meet weekly in a Home Group to study Scripture and pray together. 
    This is the Small Group (SG) - 6-12 people.

    I meet Sunday mornings to worship and listen to the preached Word on Sunday mornings and other times.
    This is the Large Group (LG)

    Today is Friday morning, and I have already spent time alone with God in the VSG.

    Ruth Haley Barton writes:

    "The raw gift of leadership may be there—as it certainly was for Moses—along with a strong sense of what is right and what we think needs to be done in this world. But our leadership cannot be a force for good if it is not being refined by the rigors of true solitude, that place where God is at work beyond what we are able to do for ourselves or would even know how to do for ourselves." (Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 43)

    VSG-SG-LG; VSG-SG-LG...  over and over again and again.

    It looks like this:

    You can read about how I spend time in the VSG in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.