Friday, February 26, 2021

Another Note on the Utopian Myth of "Progressivism" and "Progressive Christianity"


                                                        (The River Raisin, in Monroe)

In a previous blog post I stated and explained one of my objections to "progressive" Christianity. It's the idea that cross-epochal "progress," of the moral and spiritual kind, is not compatible with a Christian eschatology. And, that moral and spiritual progressivism is a utopian myth.

For example:

"A message repeated throughout [philosopher John] Gray’s work is that, despite the irrefutable material gains, this notion is misguided: scientific knowledge and the technologies at our disposal increase over time, but there’s no reason to think that morality or culture will also progress, nor – if it does progress for a period – that this progress is irreversible. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the flawed nature of our equally creative and destructive species and the cyclical nature of history. Those I spoke to in Basra needed no convincing that the advance of rational enlightened thought was reversible, as the Shia militias roamed the streets enforcing their interpretation of medieval law, harassing women, attacking students and assassinating political opponents."

- Andy Owen, "Reading John Gray in War"

Gray, BTW, is one of my favorite atheistic philosophers. I've read several of his books.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Totalitarianism and Progressive Christianity


                                                             (Lake Erie, Monroe, MI)

During Covid time I re-read Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, and Camus's The Plague

The first two, especially, are about totalitarianism and the battle to control language. (I write about this battle, and how to overcome it, in my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.)

Yesterday I picked up Rod Dreher's recent book on the invasion of "soft totalitarianism" (Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents) As you read Dreher's description of totalitarianism, think of America, and the Church.

"A totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is. As Arendt has written, wherever totalitarianism has ruled, “[I]t has begun to destroy the essence of man.” 

As part of its quest to define reality, a totalitarian state seeks not just to control your actions but also your thoughts and emotions. The ideal subject of a totalitarian totalitarian state is someone who has learned to love Big Brother. 

Back in the Soviet era, totalitarianism demanded love for the Party, and compliance with the Party’s demands was enforced by the state. Today’s totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic—and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit." (P. 8)

Monday, February 22, 2021

Letter to My Church Family (Feb. 22, 20221)


                                                                             (Monroe County)

Feb. 22, 2021

Good Morning Redeemer Family!

7:30 AM.

I look out my window and see snow melting, flowers emerging through the frozen soil, and butterflies everywhere.

Not exactly! But I do see snow melting.

Here are some things I want to share with you.

REDEEMER YOUNG ADULTS - Linda and I want you to join us in a discussion of the book The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance. Purchase the book. Read it. Linda and I are choosing a Sunday night to meet - in person - to talk about it.

This book is more than a book for parents. It explains how the parental blessing, or lack of it, affects us. The book share how we can receive the blessing of God, even if we have not received it from others. And, you will see how we can impart blessing to others.

If you want to be part of this discussion, and can commit to reading the book, but cannot afford it, please lete us know so we can buy a copy for you.

Some of our older adults are now reading the book too. If that's you, please join us for the discussion.

THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE - This coming Sunday morning, Feb. 28, I will preach on this. I feel this is an important message for such a time as this. Please pray for me this week as I prepare, and for this coming Sunday morning. Thank you!

IF YOU HAVE A PRIVATE PRAYER REQUEST FOR ME I will be taking an extended praying time tomorrow (Tuesday). Please send me your requests. It is an honor and joy to be praying for you!

TODAY IS DAY 22 of my Discipleship Devotional Booklet. If you are joining me in this focus on discipleship, thank you!

Blessings to all of you on this great day the Lord has made,


Saturday, February 20, 2021

Biblical Declarations on Joy & Laughter

                                                                  (Monroe County)

(Someone asked me to re-post this.)


(From Steve Backlund.)


“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
“A merry heart does good, like medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).
“In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).

THE DECLARATIONS  (Repeat these, saying them out loud, a total of 100 times today.)

• I am an outrageously joyful person.
• My joy level is increasing daily, and I have been created to experience fullness of joy.
• Even in the midst of uncertainty, I live from a place of unshakeable joy.
• My joy levels do not depend on circumstances or how I feel.
• I love to laugh out loud, and I purpose to do so frequently.
• I experience great joy in my life even before I see the breakthroughs I am believing for.
• I naturally know when to “weep with those who weep” and “rejoice with those who rejoice.”
• I am a carrier of infectious joy, and I release joy to others.
• My joy & laughter are powerful weapons of spiritual warfare and help create breakthrough in my own life and the lives of those around me.
• I reject foreboding and embrace hope and joy.
• I am building a stronghold of joy in my life.


• I am not an outwardly joyful person.
• The Lord is not overly concerned with us experiencing joy.


 Choose joy — Just as we choose to forgive or to love, we can choose to be joyful. It is a spiritual muscle we can develop in our lives.

Act more joyful and enthusiastic than you feel — Your emotions will soon catch up to your actions. Know that you are not being “fake” in doing this – it is your true nature to be joyful!

In difficult situations, take time to laugh — When pressure is mounting, take 30 to 60 seconds to laugh out loud. This releases endorphins, reduces stress, and helps bring a clearer perspective. Make the ability to laugh in difficult situations a core value in your life. BIBLICAL REASON #1 Proverbs 18:21 Life is in the power of the tongue.


Proverbs 18:21
Life is in the power of the tongue.

We Need Encounters with God

Image result for john piippo God
(Green Lake, Wisconsin)

The presence of God is the dominant theme 
from Genesis to Revelation.

David Fitch

Image may contain: ocean, sky, twilight, cloud, outdoor, water and nature
What can sustain the American Church during the global pandemic? More than anything, what is needed are experiential encounters with God. "Surely the Lord is in this place" happenings.

The location of these events is: human hearts. 

A friend of mine who is a great scientist had an encounter with Jesus in his hospital room. It changed his life forever. I have many friends who were alone in their homes, when the Holy Spirit unexpectedly fell on them. They were never the same again. Recently, this happened to one of our Redeemer persons, in their living room, as they listened to our worship service on YouTube.

A temple is a building that hosts the presence of God. Followers of Jesus are temples of the Spirit of God. We are portable sanctuaries. We experience God with us.

In my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church I write about the primacy of the "presence motif" in Scripture. It is God himself that we need. We need encounters and experiences with God, such that we declare, "The Lord God Almighty is here!"

A. W. Tozer knew this. He writes:

"There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals oft he faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives." (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Kindle Locations 38-40)

Friday, February 19, 2021

What If I Don't Feel Connected to God?


                                                        (Our house, on a snowy evening!)

In my Renewal School of Ministry class we have been talking about "knowing God" as "experiencing God." We talked about abiding in Christ, like a branch that is connected to Jesus the Vine. God-knowledge is not merely theoretical. It is, at its core, experiential.

One of my students asked this question: "What about someone who cannot feel connected to God?" Here are some thoughts I have about this.

Over the decades I have spent countless hours getting alone with God, and listening, and speaking, to him. Many times, I feel the connection with him. But not always. This is not unusual. Christians through the ages speak of "desert experiences," of times that feel spiritually disconnected. Mother Teresa wrote of a time of "lack of sensible consolation, spiritual dryness, an apparent absence of God from her life, and, at the same time, a painful long­ing for Him." (Here.) 

We see the feeling of disconnection in the Psalms. Psalm 10:1 pleads, "Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" If God is so close, why do we sometimes feel that he is so far away?

As I have read the spiritual writings of Christians over the centuries, I see an ebb and flow of feeling connected and feeling disconnected. I experience this, as well. What do I do? I have learned to not be distracted by my feelings. I know, that is, I believe, God is always present with me and to me. I know God loves me, whether I feel loved at the moment or not. This knowledge motivates me to continue to meet with him. (Here I recommend Henri Nouwen's book Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Nouwen is especially good on freeing us from the need to measure our experiences with God.)

What if you cannot feel connected to God? My first counsel to you is: keep meeting with him.

But what if someone keeps meeting faithfully with God, and rarely, if ever, experiences God with them? Here I recommend two resources, written by two of my spiritual directors (not in person, but through their writings and presentations): Nouwen, Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith; and Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

What if you cannot feel connected to God? My second counsel to you is: find a spiritual director.

Spiritual direction is different than psychological counseling. The latter can be valuable. But spiritual direction concerns, as Nouwen says, the "movements of the Spirit" in the depths of the human soul. (On the difference between pastoral counseling and spiritual direction, see Kenneth Leech, Soul Friend: An Invitation to Spiritual Direction.)

Nouwen defines spiritual direction as "a relationship initiated by a spiritual seeker who finds a mature person of faith willing to pray and respond with wisdom and understanding to his or her questions about how to live spiritually in a world of ambiguity and distraction." (Spiritual Direction, p. ix)

Over the years I have received many spiritual insights from individual meetings with people I respect spiritually, and through the writings of spiritually deep followers of Jesus. These have directed my heart. A spiritual director is someone who knows the way to the living water.

A spiritual director, and the great spiritual direction literature, can potentially identify blockages that create barriers to experiencing connection with God. This has happened to me, many, many times.

One final suggestion, for now. Slow-cook in a book like this: Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion, by Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe. In a personal meeting with Roger Frederickson of Renovar√© Institute, Roger gifted this book to Linda and me, with this note.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Pastors Are Unnecessary in Three Ways


I am a pastor. I am thankful God called me to this. It is instructive to understand what I am not called to; viz., I am not called to be a custodian of the prevailing culture.

Pastors, writes 
Eugene Peterson, are "countercultural servants of Jesus Christ." He writes: "We want to be free of the Egyptian slavery to the culture and free to serve our wilderness world in Jesus' name." (Peterson and Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Location 70)

Pastors, writes Peterson, are "unnecessary," in three ways.

1. "We are unnecessary to what the culture presumes is important: as paragons of goodness and niceness." (Ib.)

There's a man in my community who is a leader. He's not a follower of Jesus. Whenever he sees me he calls me "Reverend." I have asked him not to do this. "Just call me John," I say. He has a hard time complying with my request.

When he calls me this he reduces me to something kindly and benevolent. He puts me in a box. He doesn't understand that, while kindness and niceness can be good, I am called to subvert and overthrow his thoughtless secularism. He doesn't realize it, but I don't fit into his happy world. Or, he does realize it, sees me as a threat, and imprisons me as the benign "Reverend." Or, he mindlessly accepts the label which insulates him from me. 

As a pastor my world is about the realities of life and death, freedom and bondage, meaningfulness and meaninglessness, love and hate, hope and despair. My calling is address and clarify these existential realities, not to fit some role culture assigns to me.

2. "We are... unnecessary to what we ourselves feel is essential: as the linchpin holding a congregation together." (Ib.)

When I assign pastors to pray I request they leave their cell phones behind, because God wants to break them of the illusion of their indispensability. It is important for them to grasp the fact that none of us are indispensable. God doesn't need us. God loves us, and wants to use us for his kingdom's sake. But his redemptive activity does not rise or fall with us.

Peterson writes: "We have important work to do, but if we don't do it God can always find someone else - and probably not a pastor."

3. "We are unnecessary to what congregations insist that we must do and be: as the experts who help them stay ahead of the competition."

Peterson writes:

Congregations "want pastors who lead. They want pastors the way the Israelites wanted a king - to make hash of the Philistines. Congregations get their ideas of what makes a pastor from the culture, not from the Scriptures: they want a winner; they want their needs met; they want to be part of something zesty and glamorous...

With hardly an exception they don't want pastors at all - they want managers of their religious company. They want a pastor they can follow so they won't have to bother with following Jesus anymore." 

My fellow pastors, let us embrace the counterculture, the alternative kingdom of Jesus.

I'm working on:
How God Changes the Human Heart
Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships

What is Our Final Destination After Death?

What happens after we die? What does the Bible teach about this? N.T. Wright is a good place to begin, so...

Remember that Wright and other N.T. scholars are interested in, not how recent cultures (like American Christianity) view biblical texts, but on how the original Jesus-culture heard and understood the scriptures. Wright is looking for a correct biblical view. Here are some things he says about what happens when we die, especially in light of our ultimate hope and final destination.

Wright says the Bible does not say Jesus-followers are ultimately destined for heaven. Instead, at the end of time, God will re-make our physical bodies and return us to a newly restored earth. Heaven is important, but it is not our final destination. The New Testament speaks far more about this final destination than it does about heaven. So, then, what is "heaven?"

Biblically, “heaven” is a temporary holding place. That is "life after death." The Bible gives us few clues about this. Paul says, in Philippians 1:21-23, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far." 

So, immediately after death, we shall be with Christ, in heaven. And that, of course, is good.

While that is important and hopeful, the New Testament is more concerned with what Wright calls “life after life after death.” Or, the "after-afterlife." We have far more information about our ultimate destination upon being physically resurrected. And, that ultimate destination is God's recreation of a "new heaven and a new earth."

To sum up:

  • When a Jesus-follower dies they go to heaven, to be with the Lord.
  • Heaven is not our ultimate destination. It is a holding-place, until the final resurrection.
  • At the final resurrection, God will re-make our physical bodies.
  • We will live, in a state of everlasting time, in God's newly restored creation. This will be the unifying of heaven and earth. When "the times reach their fulfillment" God will "bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ." (Ephesians 1:10) 
Knowledge of our final destination should affect our lives here and now. Wright says because he believes in God’s kingdom of justice and peace, it gives him focus to work on God’s kingdom coming in the present moment. Remember that the Lord’s Prayer was never understood to be a purely future hope. Unlike the total-paradisiac-future of Islam, the Christian hope includes redemption now. This is the “age to come,” invading “this present age.” (See Ladd's eschatology here.) 

While the age to come will come in its fullness at the final resurrection of the dead, the in-breaking of the kingdom (heaven coming to earth) has been happening since the earthly life and resurrection of Jesus. You and I, as followers of Jesus, are partakers of that reality.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Save Me From Myself

Image result for john piippo rescue
The River Raisin, in Monroe

A friend once shared with me that they were losing their faith in God because things have not worked out the way they wanted them to. But this friend is their own worst enemy, the cause of much of their failure. They made choices that brought them disappointment.

They are like someone who knows smoking can cause lung cancer, smokes anyway, develops lung cancer, and then complains that things have turned out this way.

Years ago I heard John Maxwell tell a story about a CEO who had this sign on their desk: If you could kick the one person most responsible for your problems, you wouldn't be able to sit down for a week. I wrote that in my journal, because it spoke truth to me.

Not all my trials have been self-caused, but many are. So, like Thomas Merton, I began to pray, "Lord, save me from myself." (Korn guitarist Brian Welch prayed this, too.)

I sought counsel for my issues, and healing of ways I was undermining the work of the Spirit in me.

I began spending more time praying in God's presence.

I joined up with a small group, and never missed Sundays when my church family gathered.

God was freeing me from a spirit of victimization. (I'm not 100% there yet.) At this point in life, I don't find myself blaming others for my problems.

I don't find myself disappointed with God. (See Philip Yancey's Disappointed with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud)

I told my friend to try some of these things, continuously. Relentlessly. Only then will they come to know the great truth that, through the trials, God still works all things together for good.

The word 'redemption' means: to take a lemon, and make lemonade. Our God is a Redeemer. He works all things together for good. Return to God today and discover his redemptive presence.

My first two books are...

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

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Don't Aim for Happiness

(Linda bought this as a gift for a friend.)

Happiness is a horrible goal, but a wonderful byproduct. If you work at being happy, as your life goal, you will become miserable. 

Contentment is superior to happiness. The apostle Paul does not claim to have learned the secret of being happy in all circumstances. Rather, Paul has learned contentment, whether he is happy or not happy. (Philippians 4:11-13)

University of Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson, in his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, challenges the prevailing American happiness cult. He states:

“It’s all very well to think the meaning of life is happiness, but what happens when you’re unhappy? Happiness is a great side effect. When it comes, accept it gratefully. But it’s fleeting and unpredictable. It’s not something to aim at – because it’s not an aim. And if happiness is the purpose of life, what happens when you’re unhappy? Then you’re a failure. And perhaps a suicidal failure. Happiness is like cotton candy. It’s just not going to do the job.” ("Jordan Peterson: 'The Pursuit of Happiness Is a Pointless Goal'")

Monday, February 15, 2021

Henri Nouwen on Praying


This morning I read some of Henri Nouwen's reflections on prayer and praying out of The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life. People who actually pray, and live prayer-filled lives, find worlds opening up within and before them. 

Here are some Nouwen prayer-bites to illustrate this.

  • "A spiritual life without prayer is like the Gospel without Christ." (32)
  • "To pray means to think and live in the presence of God." (32)
  • "True prayer embraces the whole world, not just the small part where we live." (35)
  • "The practice of contemplative prayer is the discipline by which we begin to see God in our heart... God speaks to God, Spirit speaks to Spirit, heart speaks to heart. Contemplation, therefore, is a participation in this divine self-recognition." (35) [This is the language of Trinitarian theism, and John 14-15-16. Jesus invites us to enter into the Big Dance of Father-Son-Spirit. We fellowship with and are empowered within the perichoretic union.]
  • "Prayer is the bridge between my unconscious and conscious life. Prayer connects my mind with my heart, my will with my passions, my brain with my belly. Prayer is the way to let the life-giving Spirit of God penetrate all the corners of my being. Prayer is the divine instrument of my wholeness, unity, and inner peace." (35-36)
  • "To pray is to unite ourselves with Jesus and lift up the whole world through him to God in a cry for forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and mercy. To pray, therefore, is to connect whatever human struggle of pain we encounter - whether starvation, torture, displacement of peoples, or any form of physical and mental anguish - with the gentle and humble heart of Jesus." (36)
  • "Prayer is leading every sorrow to the source of all healing; it is letting the warmth of Jesus' love melt the cold anger of resentment; it is opening a space where joy replaces sadness, mercy supplants bitterness, love displaces fear, gentleness and care overcome hatred and indifference." (36)
  • "Praying means, above all, to be accepting toward God who is always new, always different. For God is a deeply moved God whose heart is greater than ours." (38)
  • "Prayer is the act by which we divest ourselves of all false belongings and become free to belong to God and God alone." (39)
  • "Prayer is a radical act because it requires us to criticize our whole way of being in the world, to lay down our old selves and accept our new self, which is Christ." (39)
  • "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." (39)
  • "Prayer is the act of dying to all that we consider to be our own and of being born to a new existence which is not of this world. Prayer is indeed a death to the world so that we can live for God." (39)
  • "God is timeless, immortal, eternal, and prayer lifts us up into this divine life." (39)
  • "Above all, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God's promises and find hope for yourself, your neighbor, and your world." (40)
  • "Praying is not simply some necessary compartment in the daily schedule of a Christian or a source of support in time of need, nor is it restricted to Sunday mornings or mealtimes. Praying is living. It is eating and drinking, action and rest, teaching and learning, playing and working. Praying pervades every aspect of our lives. It is the unceasing recognition that God is wherever we are, always inviting us to come closer and to celebrate the divine gift of being alive." (40)
Carve out time today to get alone with God and pray.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Character of Jesus Is the Currency of Heaven (by Jim Collins)


      (Photo by Jim Collins)

(This post is by my friend Jim Collins.)

My friend John Russell began his construction business with only a wheel barrow when he was forty-six years old. I met him years later in France at the wedding of a mutual friend.

I learned John had given his life to Jesus years before. At that time, John’s construction business was the largest and most successful in the nation of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia, during colonial days). A year later,  while we lived in Zimbabwe, I traded John currency: my U.S. dollars for his Zimbabwe dollars. John did this because a Zimbabwe dollar was worthless outside the country. John was a wealthy man, but once he crossed the border, he was penniless without those U.S. dollars.

I learned many things from John Russell. But one lesson has been supremely more valuable than the others. You see, John was materially invested in Zimbabwe. His earthly wealth was only good within those borders. As John explained his predicament, he helped me realize the only unperishable investment is in the Kingdom of God. What possessions we have here are worthless outside earthly borders. We must trade our worldly possessions for eternal currency.

John went to be with Jesus in October 1993, with a soul rich in the attributes of his Master. By 2009, Zimbabwe’s currency spiraled to extinction, being worth less than the paper it was printed on. I have a real bank note from the days just before Zimbabwe had to switch to other international currencies (among them the US dollar). Its face value is one hundred trillion Zimbabwe dollars, and is only a curiosity today.

You might wonder how to invest in the Kingdom of God. I see it as following: obeying, and becoming like Jesus. When I read Matthew chapter 5 I realize it describes the traits of one invested in the Kingdom of God. To me, the character of Jesus is the currency of heaven.

Seminar - "Demystifying Homosexuality: Questions and Answers" with Phillip Lee


"Demystifying Homosexuality: Questions and Answers"        

 Phillip Lee -

Date:  Saturday Feb. 13, 2021 at 9am-11am PT, 12noon-2pm ET

REGISTER HERE.   ($2 registration fee.)

A seminar designed to help clear up the misconceptions many have today about homosexuality. 

Why should sharing the Gospel to a gay person be approached differently than to anyone else? Scripturally-speaking: what do we know about homosexuality? Why doesn't God just go ‘Poof!’and make it go away?

Is just saying homosexuality is a sin good enough?

Is there a difference between unwanted same-sex attraction versus stating, "I'm gay! “? 

Does it matter why the person you love is homosexual? 

The seminar offers biblical and compassionate responses to homosexuality for parents, pastors, co-workers, a neighbor, or maybe just a good friend.