Saturday, April 17, 2021

To Pray Is to Trust, Not Control (PrayerLife)





One of my favorite TV shows in the 1960s was "The Outer Limits." Who can ever forget the beginning of that show when it took over control of everything? It opened with a calm, detached, obviously-in-control voice saying, 

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We can reduce the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits."

I remember watching this and choosing to change channels (we only had 3 at that time!), just to ensure that I, and not this overconfident voice, was still controlling things.

I can control what channel I'm watching as long as you trust me with the controller. But beyond that, I don't control much.

One of life's great delusions is that we control many things. But most of what we experience is out of our control. I don't control the weather, or the expanding universe, or the microbiome that colonizes my body space. I don't control the foxes that live in my backyard, the sparrows that come to my feeders, or the bug I just saw in our family room. I don't control the outcome of my DNA or the laws of gravity. I place my fingers on my wrist and check my heart rate, which I have little control over. I program my phone to remind me of the meeting with you, but I do not control you. I don't control, I cannot control, the hearts and minds of other people.

I don't control 1% of 1% of 1% of all that is happening within me and without me. To embrace the illusion of control is to live in falsehood.

Conversely, I am controlled by many things. Which means, I am subject to the weather, the expanding universe, the colonizing microbiome, my DNA, global warming, and life's "circumstances." Addictive behaviors control me. I am a slave to anything that controls me. Anything I cannot repeatedly say "No" to controls me. Clinical psychiatrist Gerald May writes:

"Loss of willpower is especially important for defining the difference between the slavery of true addiction and the freedom of sincerely caring about something or of choosing to satisfy simply desires. If you find yourself saying, "I can handle it," "I can stop it," or "I can do without it," try to perform a very simply test: simply go ahead and stop it. Do without it. If you are successful, there is no addiction. If you cannot stop, no amount of rationalization will change the fact that addiction exists." (Gerald May, Addiction and Grace, 28. Emphasis mine.)

In a world where we control little, and we are subject to many things, what can we do? Here is what we are not to do, and then what we can do.

What not to do: try to control the essentially uncontrollable. This leads to bad outcomes, especially in relationships. Keith Miller writes that one answer...

"...is to try frantically to gain control of our work, our schedule and relationships. Our control attempts leave in their wake some very unhappy mates, lovers, children and parents who make up our nuclear families. Even our friends and co-workers are affected. There are few truly happy campers in the world of a controller.

There are millions of controllers - and we are burning out at an incredible rate. Our relationships are hollow, ragged, distant. We're exhausted and feel totally alone inside, even though we may be surrounded by people. Instead of achieving that serene and happy life that our frantic, controlling activity was supposed to produce, we have tense stomachs and bruised our broken relationships." (Keith Miller, Compelled to Control: Recovering Intimacy in Broken Relationships, xv)

What to do: trust. Trust in God, the only object worthy of trust.

Trust is the antidote to the futility of control. One way to engage trust is to pray. Henri Nouwen writes:

"In the act of prayer, we undermine the illusion of control 
by divesting ourselves of all false belongings 
and by directing ourselves totally to the God 
who is the only one to whom we belong." 


Pray to be free of the illusion of control. 

TrTrust God by praying.

Friday, April 16, 2021

To Love Is Not to Agree

                                                      (Custer airport, across from our home.)


To disagree is not to hate.

Flipping this around, to love is not to agree.

Negate these two statements and we have something sounding like Orwell's "Ministry of Love."

DISAGREEMENT IS HATRED

LOVING IS AGREEMENT

Resist these untruths. You will then be swimming against the flow. If loving was equivalent to agreement, then no one would love anyone.

As clear as this is, few live these things out. And that is at the heart of political tribes (see esp. Amy Chua) and identity politics (see esp. Jonathan Haidt)

This is soft totalitarianism (see Rod Dreher), akin to Orwell's "Ministry of Truth" in 1984. Which simply declared, expecting no resistance:

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

How To Hear the Voice of God


Monroe (D & J's former home)

Often people ask me the question "How do I hear the voice of God?" A related question is, "How do I know it's God speaking to me and not just myself or some other voice?" In brief, here's my response.

1. Abide in Christ. Dwell with God. Spend much time with God. There's simply no substitute for this. For about "Mc-hearing" God. God can't be fast-fooded. Hearing the voice of God is largely an acquired thing. Analogically, I spend much time talking with Linda and listening to her. The result is that I know her heart, and her heart's desires, very well.

2. Saturate yourself in Scripture. The greater one's familiarity with Scripture is, the greater one will be able to know when it's God speaking and not something else. Begin by saturating yourself in Matthew-Mark-Luke-John. Try reading these over and over and over, slowly and meditatively, for a year. I did it recently for two years and found it very helpful. Read the four Gospels as if you've never read them before. As you read them, when God speaks to you, write it down in a journal.

3. Hang around people who do 1 and 2. Meet with other Jesus-followers who actually pray. Talk together about what you feel God has been saying to you. It won't do any good to talk to people who don't spend time alone with God. You'll just end up speculating about theology. They won't have a clue about what it means to hear the voice of God. Meeting together with people who do 1&2 provides corporate discernment. One can learn a lot about hearing God in such an environment.

Additionally - Don't multi-task the God-relationship. Spend much time with God... alone. Just you and God. Face to face. Heart to heart.

If you're unfamiliar with this, my recommendation is: just start doing it. In the process you'll learn what this is about because God so much wants you to know Him experientially and relationally.


One very good book on hearing the voice of God is: Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

See also my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

This Sunday (4/18) at Redeemer

 


If You Don't Control Your Mouth Your Religion Is Worthless

 

                                                                       (Our back yard)

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

When pressure is applied to a person's life, we see who they really are. 

In our current, pressure-packed, politicized culture, peoples' hearts are being revealed.

Sadly, in some who say they follow Jesus, the worst is coming out.

Gladly, other Jesus-followers are shining.

Some have succumbed to darkness. Others walk in the light.

This concerns what comes out of our mouths. This is about our words, our attitudes, our hearts.

If you are a follower of Jesus, listen to these words, and take them to heart.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

Those who guard their lips preserve their lives,
    but those who speak rashly will come to ruin. Proverbs 13:3

 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  Ephesians 4:2-3

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  Ephesians 4:15

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23

The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
    but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

"The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them." Matthew 15:18

"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak." Matthew 12:36

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Colossians 3:8

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. James 3:9-12

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Proverbs 19:20

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. James 1:26

I suggest: print these Scriptures out. Carry them with you for a season. Meditate on them.

Ask God to take them from your mind and grow them in your heart.

If one verse stands out to you, assume this is the Holy Spirit speaking to you. Carry this verse with you, repeating it often. 

Join me in asking God to teach how to speak truth... in love.

And, if your mouth has done harm rather than good, repent, before the Lord. Confess, to the ones you have hurt.

Do not embrace the false, demonic belief that you won't be able to express truth unless you hate.


DECLARATIONS from these VERSES

  • When pressure is applied to my heart, the best of Jesus comes out.
  • The only words that come out of my mouth are words that build people up, not tear people down.
  • I have placed a guard over my mouth, so I don't speak rashly and ruin relationships.
  • I am patient with others, because the Lord is patient with me.
  • I bear with others, because the Lord puts up with me.
  • My consuming goal is unity of the Spirit.
  • I speak truth in love. I care for others as I speak truth.
  • I prayerfully, while seeking God, guard my heart. There are thoughts I do not allow my heart to entertain.
  • No unwholesome talk comes out of my mouth. 
  • People come to me, because my words build them up.
  • I speak no careless, thoughtless words.
  • I am over hating people.
  • I never slander people.
  • No obscene, unholy talk comes out of my mouth.
  • I cannot curse other people, because even if they don't know Jesus, they are made in the image of God.
  • I pray and ponder things before I open my mouth.
  • I have put a bridle on my mouth, and allow the Spirit to guide my words.


Your Spiritual Base Is More Important Than the Wheelbase On Your Cadillac

                                                                           (Detroit)

Pulitzer Prize winning author Taylor Branch, in Parting the Waters, writes: 

"Some of [Dr. Martin Luther] King's most stinging speeches were to members of his own Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, saying 'You spend more money on liquor at your annual convention than you contribute to the NAACP. I know ministers who are more concerned about the wheelbase on their Cadillac than they are on the spiritual base to their commitment to this world."

Branch thinks King's favorite parable was in Luke 16:19-31. We read:

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

The rich man in this parable didn't go to hell because he was rich. He went to hell because he didn't notice the humanity of the man who was begging at his gate.


Lazarus was more important to God  than the rich pastor's Cadillacs.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Big Churches Diminish a Pastor's Influence

 

                                                            (Comerica Park in Detroit)

Eugene Peterson's The Pastor will kill the false self as quickly as anything I've read. That's good for me, since the true self sleeps better with the mask off.


Peterson describes a pastoral colleague who changed churches for the wrong reasons. He wanted to pastor a big church rather than the small church he had. The big church, he thought, would "multiply his effectiveness." Peterson wrote him a letter. I will paraphrase it.

You want to pastor a big church to satisfy your own ego, not to "pastor" people. "Big" churches are the kind of things America specializes in. The consequence of such mega-specialization is that American Christianity and its pastors are a mess.

Jesus was tempted by "bigness" and rejected it. Because size is the great depersonalizer. As Kierkegaard said, "the more people, the less truth."

Jesus-followers are only brought to maturity through intimacy, renunciation, and personal deepening. Pastors are there to nurture such maturity. Yes, things can happen in big churches, but only by strenuously going against the grain. Largeness is an impediment, not a help.

Americans try to find meaning in three ways: 1) through the highs of alcohol and drugs; 2) through the ecstasy of recreational sex; and 3) through the ecstasy of crowds. Pastors often speak against drugs and sex, but want crowds like people want drugs and sex. This is probably because they get so much ego benefit from the crowds. But a crowd destroys the spirit as thoroughly as excessive drink and depersonalized sex. It takes us out of ourselves, but not to God, only away from him.

We want, as pastors, a big church to escape self-boredom and core-unfulfillment (even though Christ is in us). A crowd is an exercise in false transcendence upward, which is why all crowds are spiritually pretty much the same, whether at football games, political rallies, or church. 

"Crowds" are probably a worse danger for pastors than drink, drugs, or sex. What's needed, what "church" is really meant to be, is a "community," not a "crowd."

Big churches actually diminish a pastor's influence.

When the "church growth" movement hit seminaries, Peterson and a few of his colleagues named it the "church cancer" movement having mostly to do with the American "lust for size."

(Linda and I are in our 29th year at Redeemer and getting know our people better.)

Understanding Postmodernism


 

To gain deeper understanding of American culture, it's necessary to understand postmodernism. I'll explain postmodern themes such as:

rejection of metanarratives;

skepticism about knowing objective truth;

the power of language and social constructivism;

how power becomes "knowledge";

and the loss of the enduring self.

If you want to join email me for the link.

johnpiippo@msn.com



Tuesday, April 13, 2021

In This Age of Outrage, Jesus-followers Are Kind

Image result for john piippo kindness
(Me and Joe LaRoy in Bangkok)

We need a wave of kindness to roll over all who identify as followers of Jesus. In a recent praying time God told me this would happen. So, I am praying into this. 

Kindness has transforming power. Rudeness deforms people.

As a result, I am studying love, again. The greatest words ever written on love are found in 1 Corinthians 13. There may be no better book to read on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 than
Lewis Smedes' Love Within Limits: A Realist's View of 1 Corinthians 13.

Chapter 2 is "Love is Kind." This is good for me, since in our age of outrage I need to grow the fruit of kindness. (See Ed Stetzer, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at its Worst) Your outrage does not give you license to to be unkind and unloving.

"Kindness," writes Smedes, "is the will to save; it is God's awesome power channeled into gentle healing. Kindness is love acting on persons." (11)

Love is power. Love is gentle. 

Kindness is one quality of love. Harshness, on the other hand, is sin.

Kindness is power. Kindness moves people. The Word says, Speak the truth in love


God is sending his kindness to combat the outrage. "Kindness," says Smedes, "is enormous strength - more than most of us have, except now and then." (Ib.)

Outrage is enormous weakness. Outrage is nontransformational. Outrage mutates.

"Kindness is the power that moves us to support and heal someone who offers nothing in return. Kindness is the power to move a self-centered ego toward the weak, the ugly, the hurt, and to move that ego to invest itself in personal care with no expectation of reward." (Ib.)

Only a free person can love in such a powerful way. Waves of the Father's love set people free.

When I ask God to "set me free," I am thinking of this kind of thing; viz., freedom to love; freedom to be kind.


To war against outrageous behavior with outrageous behavior only elicits more outrageous behavior. 

I must remember - I am a follower of Jesus, not a reactor to social media hatred.



**
My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)

I''m still writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Understanding and Overcoming Anger

(Monroe County sunset)

I'm re-posting this, to keep it out there.


Dealing with Anger in Relationships

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

When I feel angry, what can I do?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communicate this in your own way of saying things. Begin your sentence with “I” rather than “You.” For example: “I feel angry…” rather than “You make me feel angry…” Doing it this way asserts without aggressing. For the person who hears this, it does not feel so attacking.

Get rid of irrational or ungodly expectations. As you get free of these things you’ll find yourself less angry.

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

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

I am thankful that only a few times in our 44 years of marriage have Linda I fallen asleep angry with each other. The reason for this is not that we’re some special, exceptionally compatible couple. We are this way because we were taught to do this by godly people who spoke into our lives. We were sufficiently warned about the cancerous bitterness that arises when anger is “swept under the carpet.” We don’t want satan to gain even a toehold in our hearts. We have asked God to help us with this, and He has!

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

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

Acknowledge, before God, that you are a new creation in Christ.
Ask God to help you, and trust that He is now doing so. 

***
Face-to-Face Your Anger and Interpersonal Conflict (Not Facebook It)


Refuse using Facebook or texting or social media to  work out interpersonal conflict. For such things Face-to-Face is best.


Henri Nouwen writes:

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

Think, and pray, before you text or speak.


***
Using Logic to Manage Anger in Relationships

I would share this with my MCCC Logic students. It's an example of using logic to counsel people, in this case, those experiencing conflict in relationships.

Note: there is a small but growing Philosophical Counseling movement. See here; and here




















Sunday, April 11, 2021

Shame & Guilt - Some Notes & Resources

(Trees at Redeemer)

What Is the Difference Between Guilt and Shame? How can we experience freedom from shame? Here are the notes and resources I presented in a seminar about this.

1. Shame Is Different than Guilt.



2. Shame and Guilt are emotions.


Shame expresses itself in thoughts like I am not enough; There is something wrong with me; or I don't matter.


Shame "is born out of a sense of “there being something wrong” with me or of “not being enough,” and therefore exudes the aroma of being unable or powerless to change one’s condition or circumstances." (Thompson, Kindle Locations 277-279)

Shame often has to do with a "lessening" of our worth and capacity. This lessening is deeper than a conclusion one logically arrives at. It is an emotion, a feeling, that one cannot be reasoned out of. Thompson says shame's essence precedes language; it seems to be woven into a person's DNA.

Shame says I am wrong. Guilt says something I have done is wrong. Shame refers to our being and worth; guilt is about morality. Shame is debilitating. Guilt is a rescue. A healthy, integrated person has a moral conscience that responds to right and wrong. 

The emotion of guilt, when given by God, is a good thing. We want, e.g., a person to feel guilty (show remorse) if they have hurt someone. "Guilt," writes Paul Tournier, can become "a friend because it leads to the experience of God's grace." (See Tournier, Guilt and Grace: A Psychological Study.)

3. Consequences of Shame

Psychiatrist Curt Thompson writes:

Shame is not just a consequence of something our first parents did in the Garden of Eden. It is the emotional weapon that evil uses to (1) corrupt our relationships with God and each other, and (2) disintegrate any and all gifts of vocational vision and creativity.

These gifts include any area of endeavor that promotes goodness, beauty and joy in and for the lives of others, whether that be teaching our first graders, loving our spouse well, managing forests, conducting healing prayer services, creating a new medical technology, offering psychotherapy or composing symphonies. Shame is a primary means to prevent us from using the gifts we have been given.


4. Three Sources of Crippling Shame

5. One of the Hallmarks of shame is Judgment

Judgment refers to "the spirit of condemnation or condescension with which we analyze or critique something, whether ourselves or someone or something else. I may say to myself, I should have done better at that assignment. What is crucial is the emotional tone that undergirds those words." (Curt Thompson, Kindle Locations 335-337)

6. Shamed People Shame People

The act of being judgmental towards other people is rooted in self-judgment. Thompson writes:


"As I often tell patients, “Shamed people shame people.” Long before we are criticizing others, the source of that criticism has been planted, fertilized and grown in our own lives, directed at ourselves, and often in ways we are mostly unaware of.

Suffice to say that our self-judgment, that tendency to tell ourselves that we are not enough—not thin enough, not smart enough, not funny enough, not . . . enough—is the nidus [origin] out of which grows our judgment of others, not least being our judgment of God. The problem is that we have constructed a sophisticated lattice of blindness around this behavior, which disallows our awareness of it." (Kindle Locations 348-352)

7. Shamed People Don't Experience Grace

Grace, as C.S. Lewis understood it, is the Christian distinctive. By it, shame is overcome.



FREEDOM FROM SHAME


1 – TAKE EVERY THOUGHT CAPTIVE

2 Cor. 10:5 - We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 
As a follower of Jesus, your status is "in Christ."

You are a God-created, soulish, embodied, "in Christ" person. This means there are some things you are not.

You are not what you doTo define yourself by what you do is to live on a spiritual and emotional roller coaster that is a function of your accomplishments. Your identity does not depend on what you have accomplished. Your productivity does not define you. 
Your worth is not the same as your usefulness. (From Henri Nouwen)

You are not what you have. Do not define yourself by your stuff. Because when you lose any of it you will slip into the indentityless darkness.


You are not what other people think of you. If people think well of you, say thank you. If people think ill of you, pray for them. But do not go up and down and in and out on the basis of others' affirmation and disaffirmation. Refuse to let other people define you.


YOU ARE WHAT GOD THINKS OF YOU. Period. Case closed. Colossians 1:27 says: 
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 
When you understand this in your heart three things happen.
1.          You are set free from the punishing of the hierarchical honor-shame systems of your surrounding culture.

2.          You are free from the striving that happens on the ladder of the honor-shame hierarchy.

3.          You are free to love others.

2 – EXPERIENCE GOD’S GRACE

Grace, as C.S. Lewis understood it, is the Christian distinctive. By it, shame is overcome.

3 – SPEND MUCH TIME WITH GOD

4 – BE PART OF A GRACE-FILLED SMALL GROUP

5 – ASSEMBLE TOGETHER ON SUNDAY MORNINGS


SOME RESOURCES

For more on freedom from shame see Lewis Smedes's excellent Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve. This is one of the best books I have ever read!

The best book on "grace" is Philip Yancey's 
What's So Amazing About Grace?