Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Why Don't I Do What Jesus Tells Me to Do?

 

                                                             (Art, by one of our youth)

Many of the posts I write are for me. If they speak to others, great! 

I write to remind myself. So, here we go.

Jesus said,

"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord',

and do not do what I tell you?"


Jesus implied,

"I told you to love your enemies.

Why don't you?"


Jesus meant, 

"I told you to care for the least of these.

Why aren't you?"


Jesus asks,

"I told you to love Me with all of your being.

Why only 10% of you?"


Jesus said,

"I am building My church.

Why do you only show up on Christmas and Easter?"


Jesus stated,

"Seek first My kingdom.

Why isn't this #1 on your to-do list?"


Jesus commanded,

"Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.

Why do you only talk about this on Good Friday?"


Jesus says,

"I told you to live in the Light.

Why do you flirt with darkness?"


Jesus instructs,

"Make disciples of people.

Why aren't you doing this?"


Jesus said,

"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord',

and do not do what I tell you?"


"Plainly, in the eyes of Jesus there is no good reason for not doing what he said to do, for he only tells us to do what is best. Just try picturing yourself standing before him and explaining why you did not do what he said was best."

- Dallas Willard

Monday, March 29, 2021

Hell Inspires the Abusive Tongue



James 3:3-12. 

This passage is on the out-of-control mouth that ruins Jesus-communities with untruths. (In James, one of the problems is antinomianism; viz., the misguided idea that one can have "faith" without obedience to Christ. This is why James stresses that faith without deeds is dead.) 

James understands the power of words. He knows that such a small (micro) thing as the mouth can have mega-effects (megala) vastly disproportionate to its size.

The tongue, writes James, is a fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. That is, the origin of all divisive untruths, gossip, slander, flattery, and innuendo are from an unheavenly source. (Slander is saying something behind a person's back that you would never say to their face; flattery is saying something to a person's face that you would never say behind their back.)

New Testament scholar Scot McKnight writes, "Hell inspires the abusive tongue." (McKnight, James, 286) Words that tear down rather than build up, words of hatred rather than love, words showing favoritism of one person over another, all rise up out of a heart in touch with hell.

Why such strong language? After all, doesn't the old proverb apply here? "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." To the contrary, "Far easier to heal are the wounds caused by sticks and stones than the damage caused by words." (Douglas Moo, in McKnight, James, 286)

James ramps up the intensity when he writes: "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness." 

For James, this is crazy, because it means blessing a person with your words and then cursing the same person with your words. This is some kind of evil schizophrenia.  How so?  

Because “cursing” is a failure to see in one another God’s image. (David Nystrom, James) This is why James adds "who have been made in God's likeness." Praising God and cursing people is equal to praising and cursing God, since persons are made in God’s image. If you curse a person, you are cursing God’s image in that person. 

Thus, we have the contradiction:

1. I praise God.
2. I curse God (via cursing people who are made in the image of God).

This is the incongruous "double-mindedness" James warns about. James describes Christians who praise God with their mouths on Sunday mornings, and are brutal towards other people in their homes, or in their work places.

Cursing is tearing down the image of God in other people. N. T. Wright says if "someone turns out to be pouring out curses – cursing other humans who are made in God’s likeness – then one must at least question whether their heart has been properly cleansed, rinsed by God’s powerful spirit. And if that isn’t the case, that person is getting their real inspiration from hell itself." 

How can our mouth be healed of its abusive ways? The answer for James, and his biological brother Jesus, is by focusing on the mouth's source, which is the heart. To rescue your mouth, focus on your heart. 

Let your heart align with the heart of Jesus. If your heart is pure, your words will be pure. Nystrom writes:

“Jesus understood actions to be revelatory of character, as the saying “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit” attests. He also believed our speech to be revelatory of character, which is the essential point being made here. Our speech comes from the heart.”

So what can we do? I like how Oswald Chambers directs us. He writes:

"Jesus says that there is only one way to develop spiritually, and that is by concentration on God. “Do not bother about being of use to others; believe on Me” — pay attention to the Source, “and out of you will flow rivers of living water.”
We cannot get at the springs of our natural life by common sense and Jesus is teaching that growth in spiritual life does not depend on our watching it, but on concentration on our Father in heaven. Our heavenly Father knows the circumstances we are in, and if we keep concentrated on Him we will grow spiritually as the lilies."

The message of James 3:3-12 is that, while humanity has failed to tame the human tongue, God can, as we abide in him.



                                                           (Lake Erie, near our house)

"I HAVE A REASON"





I wrote this song in the 70s. 


Linda and I did it as we traveled throughout the Midwest singing and speaking.

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 once had a friend who was a police office. He told me, "John, I don't trust anyone." I think he trusted me. It took him years to come to this. His work brought him into untrustworthy situations, every day. Trust implies risk. We wonder, 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 becomes the Quieter of our Souls. We find rest, in Him. 

Record Levels of Anxiety and Depression in College Students

 

Three weeks ago Linda and I took a much-needed night away. We went to a hotel in Ann Arbor, sat in the hot tub, and had a delicious meal in one of our favorite restaurants. 

In the hotel lobby there were free newspapers. I picked up The University Record, which is the University of Michigan's paper for faculty and staff.

One of the articles was "College students saw record levels of anxiety, depression last fall." Here are some of the highlights.

College students last fall reported their highest levels of depression and anxiety of any prior semester, according to U-M’s Healthy Minds Study, an annual web-based survey looking at mental health and service utilization among undergraduate and graduate college students.

Among the respondents, 47 percent screened positive for clinically significant symptoms of depression or anxiety  — up from 44 percent last year and the highest since the survey was started in 2007. The study included data from 32,754 students from 36 colleges and universities, with a response rate 14 percent.

“We are not necessarily attributing this to a dramatic spike in fall of 2020, but we actually see this as part of an overall trend of rising rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health outcomes and concerns that college students are reporting to us over the last five years, certainly, but even perhaps over the last 10 years,” said Justin Heinze, one of the principal investigators of the report.

Key findings included:

  • Sixty-six percent of students indicated feeling isolated from others — a key risk factor for mental health — sometimes or often.
  • Among students with a positive screen for depression or anxiety, only 40 percent had received any mental health counseling or therapy in the past year.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Affirmation Is Not Equivalent to Love

Image result for johnpiippo
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

(I first posted this in 2016. It's more relevant today.)

If I don't affirm all your beliefs, it does not mean I don't, or cannot, love you. 

Loving someone does not mean affirming everything they do or believe in. If that was true, love would be nonexistent.

Take the statement: X is wrong, with X referring to, say, a behavior. Or a moral position.

Now, imagine I say, "The statement X is wrong is true." That is, I believe it is true that X is wrong. It's wrong to do X, or hold to the moral position of X.

Next, imagine you believe the statement X is wrong is false. That is, you believe it is not true that X is wrong. It's right to do X, or right to hold to the moral position of X.

This means we disagree on the truth-value of the statement X is wrong. It means that you think I am wrong about this statement, and I believe that you are wrong about it. Make no mistake about this. This is about right/wrong, true/false. Statements are either T or F, without exception. (This does not mean we know which it is. For example, There are an even number of stars in the universe.)

You, therefore, cannot affirm me in my belief that X is wrong. I should not expect that you would. Why would I expect you to affirm something you thought false, or wrong? And, I cannot affirm you in your belief about the particular state of affairs that X refers to. You should not expect that I would.

This may cause us to vote differently. It may mean we go to different churches. It may mean that I go to church, but you do not. It may mean I believe in God, but you don't. It may mean we have different beliefs about guns, or about fidelity in marriage, or about marriage.

Even though you think I am wrong, you should not force me to affirm something I do not believe in. Nor I, you. That's a waste of time, since coercion cannot produce belief. 

But at least one of us is mistaken about our belief. We cannot both be right. 

Ethical relativism will not work here. This is precisely why we disagree; viz., because we believe there is such a thing as rightness, and truth. This is why you are concerned to convince me that it is false that X is wrong. Maybe you are upset with me, angry with me. You think I ought to affirm you because you are right, and I am wrong. Objectively so.

Let's say I have studied the claim X is wrong for fifty years. I have read everything pro and con about it. I have taken classes on it. I have dialogued with contrarians over and over about this. And still, after all this, I cannot in my heart and mind affirm what you believe about this. Let's further say you have done the same, and come out thinking I am wrong. It happens. You cannot nor should be expected to affirm me regarding my belief, and vice versa. You should not expect me to endorse X, or to engage in X, or to champion X, or get all excited about X. Depending on the level of importance the matter has to us, this may result in a certain parting of ways.

But, we can still love. 

Jesus said we are even to love our enemies, and my enemies believe things I vehemently reject. 

An enemy is someone who affirms a set of beliefs which you do not, and cannot, affirm. But even if I am to you the enemy of your deepest beliefs, you can still love me. And, if you have the expectation that I should affirm what you believe, I feel misunderstood and disrespected by you. Perhaps we can agree on this, and agree to love in spite of, and in the process learn what such outrageous love is, and then talk about where it comes from and what it means.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Remembering (Combating Spiritual Alzheimer's Disease)

Del & Linda

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 to shop together while I stayed with Martha. We sat for a minute and then she looked at me, 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 forgot 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, how God delivered their people out of bondage in Egypt. Remembering, which reminds them of God's faithfulness, brings fresh hope.

My spiritual journal functions as a 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 answered many 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.

I 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.

***
My two books are:


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Letter to My Church Family - March 23, 2021

 

                                                                    (Lake Erie sunrise)


March 23, 2021

Good Morning Redeemer Family!

This Sunday coming morning we will focus on Jesus, riding into Jerusalem, on that first Palm Sunday.

Then, on Sunday, at 5 PM, Linda and I will host The Blessing Gathering. 5 PM. Pizza afterwards. If you are coming and want to donate a 2-liter soda, thank you.

On Thursday evening, the night before Good Friday, our Youth Group will lead us in a communion service.

There will be a youth overnight on Friday, April 2. 

Then, on Sunday, April 4, we are going to part like it's Easter!

I hope you are well today. If you have a PRIVATE PRAYER REQUEST for me, I will be taking time to pray this afternoon.

Finally, I just posted this to my blog. 

Remain in Christ (Rather than Occasionally Visiting Him)


Blessings to you all this day,

PJ

Remain in Christ (Rather than Occasionally Visiting Him)

Green Lake Christian Conference Center (Wisconsin)

At Redeemer we teach people to abide in Christ. For followers of Jesus this is the first thing we must learn, and live. 

To "abide," or “remain” in Christ means “to take up permanent residence” (Greek meno). "Abide" is a dwelling word. This refers to a slow cooker, not a microwave; a lifestyle, rather than a trend; a relationship, rather than a rule.

It's like being a branch, connected to a Vine, who is Christ. This is about a day after day after day thing, rather than occasional visits.

Greg Boyd writes:

“Branches don’t visit a vine once in a while on special occasions. Rather, branches are permanently attached to their source of life. So too, followers of Jesus are to take up permanent residence in Christ, remaining attached to him at all times as their source of their Life.” (Boyd, Present Perfect, 34)

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Absurdity of Christianity Without the Resurrection

 

                           (Redeemer sanctuary, awaiting Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday)

Perhaps, one day, someone will invent a car without an engine. But, at least for now, and far into the foreseeable future, if it doesn't have an engine that converts energy into motion, then it's not a car.

The same goes for the resurrection of Jesus. Liberal Christianity has invented a religion without a historical resurrection. For a description of how this has happened, see Tim Keller, Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter, chapter 1. 

Keller writes:

"Liberal Christianity has taught that it doesn’t matter whether these events in the story of Jesus’s life actually happened. All that matters is that Christians be good, ethical people who love others and make the world a better place. This is an effort to create a non-historical faith, one that isn’t grounded in what God has actually done in history, but only in what we do and how we live. Liberal Christianity even tries to read itself back into history as the original, true Christianity. It claims that the original Jesus was simply a human teacher of justice and love.

...This narrative, however, is not actually an updated version of Christianity. Rather, it is the creation of a different religion altogether...

...The stark difference between liberal Christianity and the original faith was put famously by H. Richard Niebuhr. He described liberalism thus: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a Cross.” And, he could have added, without a resurrection." (pp. 3-4. I have read, over the decades, several liberal theologians who have created alternative religions and called it 'Christianity'.)

If it does not have the historical resurrection, then it's not Christianity. The apostle Paul knew this, as he wrote, in 1 Corinthians 15:13 ff.

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 

14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless 

and so is your faith. 

15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, 

for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. 

But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 

16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; 

you are still in your sins. 

18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 

19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, 

we are of all people most to be pitied.

Keller quotes a poem by John Updike, to illustrate the absurdity of Christianity  without the resurrection.

Make no mistake: 

if He rose at all 

It was as His body; 

If the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the 

molecule reknit, 

the amino acids rekindle, 

the Church will fall. 

It was not as the flowers, 

each soft spring recurrent; 

it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and 

fuddled eyes of the 

eleven apostles; 

it was as His flesh; ours. 

The same hinged thumbs and toes, 

the same valved heart 

that—pierced—died, withered, paused, 

and then regathered 

out of enduring Might 

new strength to enclose. 

Let us not mock God with metaphor, 

analogy, sidestepping, transcendence, 

making of the event a parable, a sign 

painted in the faded 

credulity of earlier ages: 

let us walk through the door. 

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché 

not a stone in a story, 

but the vast rock of materiality that in 

the slow grinding of 

time will eclipse for each of us 

the wide light of day. 

And if we have an angel at the tomb, 

make it a real angel, 

weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, 

vivid with hair, 

opaque in the dawn light, 

robed in real linen 

spun on a definite loom. 

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous, 

for our own convenience, 

our own sense of beauty, 

lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, 

we are embarrassed by the miracle, 

and crushed by remonstrance.


Keller, Hope in Times of Fear (pp. 4-5)

Dallas Willard on Breaking Free from Institutional Measures of Success

Lady bug, in my home office


Dallas Willard's interview on measuring spiritual growth among Jesus-followers is prophetic and subversive (the two often go together!). Here are some of the things Willard says:

Many churches measure the wrong things, "like attendance and giving, but we should be looking at more fundamental things like anger, contempt, honesty, and the degree to which people are under the thumb of their lusts."

Why don't many churches measure spiritual effectiveness by these things? Because these qualities are "not worth bragging about." "We'd rather focus on institutional measures of success."

Not every Christian wants to be assessed by these spiritual things.

Many people in today's American church are suffering, especially pastors and their families, because "much of North America and Europe has bought into a version of Christianity that does not include life in the kingdom of God as a disciple of Jesus Christ. They are trying to work a system that doesn't work. Without transformation within the church, pastors are the ones who get beat up. That is why there is a constant flood of them out of the pastorate. But they are not the only ones. New people are entering the church, but a lot are also leaving. Disappointed Christians fill the landscape because we've not taken discipleship seriously."

Churches, and Jesus-followers, must change their definition of "success." 

"They need to have a vision of success rooted in spiritual terms, determined by the vitality of a pastor's own spiritual life and his capacity to pass that on to others. When pastors don't have rich spiritual lives with Christ, they become victimized by other models of success—models conveyed to them by their training, by their experience in the church, or just by our culture. They begin to think their job is managing a set of ministry activities and success is about getting more people to engage those activities. Pastors, and those they lead, need to be set free from that belief."


***
My two books are:


I'm working on #s 3 and 4 - hopefully out in 2019:

How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation)


Technology and Spiritual Formation

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Tim Curry's Message on the Sermon on the Mount



In fifty years of ministry, I have never heard, or seen a message like this before.

It was moving, overwhelming...   

Find a quiet place, and watch it to the end.

(Here's the LINK.)

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Forgiving Others - Three Stages

(Chicago)

What is forgiveness? Lewis Smedes, in his paradigm-changing book Forgive and Forget, stages the process of forgiveness this way.

1) You surrender the right to get even with the person who wronged you.

You will no longer engage in ways of making them pay for how they wounded you.

You give whatever justice should be exacted over to God.

You let it go.

2) You reinterpret the person who wronged you in a larger format.

You begin to see the person as God sees them (much like the forgiveness seen in "The Shack," where Mack sees people as God sees them).

This helps us avoid creating a "caricature" of the person who wounded us. "In the act of forgiving, we get a new picture of a needy, weak, complicated, fallible human being like ourselves."

We begin to see that we are "that kind of people" too, not in the details, but in the heart.

As you begin to view the person who hurt you this way, forgiveness is taking root in you.

Forgiveness will be securely planted in you when you experience stage three, as a matter of your heart.

3) You develop a gradual desire for the welfare of the person who wounded you.

At this stage you are like Jesus, who loved us even as we were his enemies and wounded him on the cross.



***

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God


Friday, March 19, 2021

How to Lead a Spirit-led Church

 


The way to lead a Spirit-led church is to be led by the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the church's leader, not you.

To do this, you must walk closely to the Holy Spirit. This is the first thing you must do in leading a Spirit-led church.

This requires, on your part, time and focus and intentionality. You must intentionally spend time with the Holy Spirit. You cannot multi-task this time with the Spirit. Blessed are the mono-taskers, for they shall hear from God. If you are too busy for this, you will end up with a You-led church.

You must have a deep, abiding, praying life. There simply is no substitute for this. Talking about this does no good. You must do it.

You must cultivate a growing, ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit. You must do this, before doing anything else in the church.

You need to hear from God, every day. 

This requires growth in spiritual discernment. Spiritual discernment is in direct proportion to intimacy with the Holy Spirit. The more familiar you are with the Spirit, the more you will grow in ability to separate the voice of God from the world's competing voices.

You need to disciple your people in living the abiding-in-Christ life, the listening-to-God life, the discerning-the-Spirit life. As this happens, practice corporate discernment. Discern what God is saying through your people.

You have to risk everything on this; viz., on the conviction that the Spirit is now saying "Do this," "Go here," "Do not do this," and so on. You must hear the voice of the Spirit, and, when instructed, you must follow the Spirit's leading.

This means you must give up control. A control freak is incapable of following the Spirit. To be led is to give up control.

These are the things you must do, in leading a Spirit-led church.


***

For more detail see my two books.

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church