Tuesday, April 27, 2021

American Universities Are Fighting for Free Speech, Too


                                                                (Our front yard)

Religions are not the only groups fighting for free speech today. Universities are, too.

See "Speaking Power to Truth: Academic Freedom's Most Determined Adversaries Are Inside Academia," by Princeton Prof. of Politics Keith Whittington. 

Universities, writes Whittington, now face an existential threat. That is, a threat to the very existence of the "university."

Historically, universities exist to lead in the pursuit of truth, and to equip and empower students to think critically about such matters. Contrary viewpoints are not merely tolerated, but seen as essential to cognitive growth and epistemic ability. I remember, as a young philosophy major in the 70s, classes where a skilled professor would lead us in a back-and-forth, give-and-take discussion, allowing different ideas to be expressed, that lasted, in our minds, well beyond the class.

Not any more, at least as some postmoderns would have it. Whittington writes:

"A growing army on college campuses would like to restrict the scope of intellectual debate by subjecting academic inquiry to political litmus tests. Over the 20th century, American universities’ students and faculty pushed to make them havens for heretics, dissenters, iconoclasts, and nonconformists. In the wake of their success, many scholars now demand that campuses adhere to their own orthodoxies."

To postmodern professors, "Speech is not, or at least not merely, a means by which we discover and communicate what is true and false. Speech can also be an instrument of power. Contemptuous of pursuing truth through speech, the demagogue, like the postmodernist himself, is concerned with manipulating the thoughts and feelings of his audience so as to advance his own political goals. If speech is an instrument of power, then perhaps it should be taken away from those who would wield it for disreputable purposes."

But, according to whom? As Alisdair MacIntyre once asked, "Whose Justice? Which Rationality?"

Perhaps, thanks to Whittington and other professors like him, free speech and philosophical liberty will recapture the narrative and, in doing so, become unlikely allies with those of us who see religious freedom slipping away, in the name of who-knows-what?

Whittington has written a brilliant essay. Read it in its entirety. His closing words are,

"American universities have evolved over time, and there is no reason to think that the intellectual openness that has characterized them for the past half-century will characterize them a half-century from now. The buildings might survive, but there is no guarantee that free and open inquiry will."

Monday, April 26, 2021

Avoid the Arguer Without and Within

(Torrey Pines)

I taught Logic for eighteen years at Monroe County Community College. Logic is about evaluating, and formulating, arguments. In my first class session I would explain this, and the difference between evaluating and formulating arguments and being argumentative.

"Get away from a man who argues every time he talks."
- Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert

Do not partner with the argumentative person. The argumentative person is not to be your companion. Love them, but do not be influenced by them.

Enter not into the arguments of the argumentative person. The argumentative person is fishing for an argument. Don't take their bait.

Relationships in the New Community are not to be like living in a court of law. Reason together? Yes. And always in love. Argumentative? No.

Don't go looking for a fight. Wage war against the devil, not people. If it has flesh and blood, it's not your real enemy.

More than loving peace, be a peacemaker. Lay down your swords. Beat them into plowshares. Convert your military weapons into instruments of righteousness and peace. Anyone can love peace. Peace-makers who are God's active agents of peace, on the other hand, are rare. They are blessed and called the offspring of God. 

  1. Be at peace with God.
  2. Peace with God brings peace within.
  3. Peace within leads to peace with others.


  1. Abide in Christ.
  2. Christ gives you his peace, a peace unlike this world gives.
  3. Bring this heart of peace into your flesh-and-blood relationships.
  1. As a Jesus-follower you are "in Christ."
  2. In Christ there is peace (everlastingly so, in the perichoretic Triune being of the Godhead).
  3. Thus fulfill the prayer of Jesus in John 17 to "be one" with others, as Jesus and the Father are one.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Benefits of Practicing Gratitude

(Jax, Josh and Nicole's cat)

Be thankful.

In this stormy season, I find many things to thank God for. I find myself, sometimes unconsciously, whispering "Thank you Jesus" as I move through the day. This is becoming more and more common. It is increasing in me. The pandemic has not changed this.

Thankfulness, from the heart, is pleasing to God. In his pleasure, God adds benefits to our thankfulness. In his beautiful, healing, helpful book Finding Quiet, J. P. Moreland writes:

Here are some of the benefits of the regular practice of gratitude:

 • increased feelings of energy, alertness, enthusiasm, and vigor 
• success in achieving personal goals 
• better coping with stress 
• a sense of closure in traumatic memories 
• bolstered feelings of self-worth and self-confidence
• solidified and secure social relationships 
• generosity and helpfulness 
• prolonging of the enjoyment produced by pleasurable experiences 
• improved cardiac health through increases in vagal tone 
• greater sense of purpose and resilience (pp. 112-113)

A thankful heart produces so many benefits one could think God intended us to live thankfully.

“For everything God created is good, 
and nothing is to be rejected 
if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). 

“Let us come before him with thanksgiving 
and extol him with music and song” (Psalm 95:2).

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Revival and the Transformation of Desire

                                                  (Our grandson Levi.)

I have been praying for revival for a long time. The pandemic has not changed this. Here is Michael Brown's definition of "revival."

"Supernatural renewal" includes the transformation of desire. Then, as Jesus said, If you desire me, you will keep my commands. (My translation.)

It looks like this.

"Have you ever played in a swimming pool and tried to hold a beach ball under the surface? Its tendency—you might even say its penchant and desire—is to rise to the surface. It is “restless” when it is held under the water. It keeps trying to sneak up from under your feet or hands, bursting toward the surface. It wants to be floating." (James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love) 

True revival produces a lasting desire that cannot be contained. It's like this. As the deer pants for the water...

Matthew 6:21 says,

For where your treasure is, 
there will be your heart also.

Look at what a person treasures, and you will find their heart.

The place where your treasure is, 
is the place you will most want to be, 
and end up being. (Message)

Your heart will always pursue 
what you value as your treasure. (Passion)

You can't force desire. A person either has it, or they don't. When it is there, you don't need will power. Desire eats will power for breakfast. 

Desire desires. In this it is unstoppable.

A. W. Tozer writes, "The difference between coldness of heart and warmth of heart is the difference between being in love and not being in love." (Tozer, A. W.. Rut, Rot, or Revival, p. 156)

In real revival God brings a person's desires into alignment with His desires. I have seen this. 

I have become this.

J. Edwin Orr writes:  "Spiritual awakenings are exceedingly infectious, and proximity in time and place adds to the stimulation of desire for similar blessing." (Orr, J. Edwin, The Second Evangelical Awakening

The Ireland Revival of 1859 “created a thirsting desire for the Word of God, and it is their continual and increasing study to learn to read it for themselves. The spirit of inquiry is so great, that we have been induced to open the school two evenings during the week, for the purpose of communicating instruction.” (Ib.)

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said: “The inevitable and constant preliminary to revival has always been a thirst for God, a thirst, a living thirst for a knowledge of the living God, and a longing and a burning desire to see him acting, manifesting himself and his power, rising, and scattering his enemies.” (In Collin Hansen, A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir. Emphasis mine.)

Leonard Ravenhill writes that Charles Wesley seemed to be reaching on tiptoes when he said, ‘‘Nothing on earth do I desire, but Thy pure love within my heart!’’ (Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, p. 127)

In true revival the Holy Spirit changes the orientation of human hearts. The Spirit transforms what the heart desires. In revival, people long for  righteousness more than unrighteousness, purity more than impurity, Jesus more than the stuff of this world.

Tomorrow morning at Redeemer I am preaching on hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I see it happening in my people. Why not, right? And ,why not in you? Why not you, as a revivalist who carries the flame of true desire to your churches and your families?

Revival fires are burning. 

Revival is the New Normal. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Needed: Pastors as Spiritual Directors


What is a "pastor?" Eugene Peterson says a pastor is, essentially, a spiritual director. One who guides and leads his flock into the life of God's kingdom. A pastor is not to be understood as a CEO, religious shop-keeper, Bible expositor, apostolic entrepreneur, or counselor.

One book that has shaped my understanding of "pastor" is Eugene Peterson's 
The Contemplative Pastor. I've read this book at least three times. I place it on my Top Ten Best Books Ever Read list.

Today my attention is again drawn to Peterson via Scot McKnight's revisiting of him 

Adjectives that would describe a pastor include: "unbusy," "subversive," and "apocalyptic." We don't see that in a lot of pastors. Peterson has said:

“If you listen to a Solzhenitsyn or Bishop Tutu, or university students from Africa or South America, they don’t see a Christian land. They see something almost the reverse of a Christian land. … They see a lot of greed and arrogance. And they see a Christian community that has almost none of the virtues of the biblical Christian community, which have to do with a sacrificial life and conspicuous love. Rather, they see indulgence in feelings and emotions, and an avaricious quest for gratification.”


As George Barna discovered, ongoing spiritual formation into Christlikeness is almost nonexistent in the American church. McKnight writes: 
"The assumption was that the reception of correct doctrine by people who sat “under the Word” would automatically create the expression of correct, Christ-following lives. “Preach the Word in season and out…” “Preach the whole counsel of God!” It was as if the Great Commission was “Preach the Word” not “Make disciples of all nations.” The church-at-large had become horribly ingrown and self-seeking."

McKnight once attended a Q&A session with Peterson in New York City. He writes:

"Peterson and his wife, Jan, were the main guests of Gabe Lyons’ Q-ideas sessions in New York City. Through the generosity of good friends, I was able to attend. I was struck by the attendance of many young, enthusiastic leaders who affirmed the steadfast vision that Eugene offered for the pastor. I was one of the older attendees. Peterson has weathered the storm of much contentious push-back on his vision of pastor, but his gracious, persistent voice is still strong and magnetic, kind and discerning. Eugene is now the pastors’ pastor."

Though I've never met him, Eugene is certainly one of my pastors.


I'm working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart
Technology and Spiritual Formation
Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Addiction as Attachment


                                                          (Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio)

Gerald May, in Addiction and Grace, says the French word for 'addiction' is attache. Attache has the sense of "being nailed to." In addiction, a human soul is nailed to a behavior that stops the flow of God's grace and love, and disallows us to freely love and worship God.

May writes,

"Saint Augustine once said that God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them. If our hands are full, they are full of the things to which we are addicted. And not only our hands, but also our hearts, minds, and attention are clogged with addiction. Our addictions fill up the spaces within us, spaces where grace might flow. 

It is most important to remember, however, that it is not the objects of our addictions that are to blame for filling up our hands and hearts; it is our clinging to these objects, grasping for them, becoming obsessed with them. In the words of John of the Cross, “It is not the things of this world that either occupy the soul or cause it harm, since they enter it not, but rather the will and desire for them.” This will and desire, this clinging and grasping, is attachment." (Pp. 17-18)

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

What a Righteous Person Looks Like


(Snowy trees in our front yard - April 21, 2021)


-      Matthew 5:6

What is this thing called “righteousness?”

We get a big clue, later in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, in Matthew 6:33: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

          HIS righteousness.

          HIS character…  HIS integrity…

          HIS love…  

The Sermon on the Mount gives many examples of God’s righteousness.”

These show us what a person looks like and lives like when they are hungering and thirsting for His Kingdom and His righteousness.

A person who seeks and hungers and thirsts for God's righteousness...

  • Doesn’t hold anger in their heart against someone (5:21-26)
  • Is sexually pure – they don’t look lustfully at other people. (5:27–30)
  • Has integrity: they stand by their word (5:33-37)
  • Exhibits magnanimous Love: They love and care for their enemies, not just their friends. (5:46-47)
  • Are authentic: They don't do good things to impress people (6:1)
  • Humbly gives to people in poverty (6:2-4)
  • Has a praying life (6:5-13)
  • Lives a forgiving life: Forgive others so God will forgive you (6:14-15)
  • Doesn’t build up treasures, and wealth, on earth (6:19–21, 24)
  • Disengages from judging other people and fault-finding: they ask God to pull the logs out of their own eyes – they fix their own junk first. (7:1-5)
  • Treats people the way they want others to treat them (7:12)
  • Is actively obedient: Does everything Jesus taught (7:15-27)

All these practices define what God’s righteousness looks like on earth, manifested in Jesus-followers such as you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Praying to Be Free from the Need for Things to Go My Way

(Streets of Bangkok)

In one of Thomas Merton's journals he writes about life in the monastery of Gethsemane.[1] Merton struggled with the CEO of the place (the "Abbot"), Dom James. Dom James had big problems, as Merton saw it. Merton knew he had to accept this, and wrote: "I do not criticize Dom James – his nature is what it is, and he must see things as he does. And he is the Abbot God has willed for me."[2]

Then Merton had this God-given insight: "I know I will never have things exactly as I wish they ought to be – and as I would take pride in them."[3]

In that singular sentence we see a free person. God desires to free me of the terrible burden, and illusion, of always having to have things go the way I want them to go. 

Is that really a terrible burden? Wouldn't it be ideal to have everything go my way? As interesting as these questions are, they are irrelevant. Because everything in my life has not gone, and will not go my way. Indeed, everything in life should not go my way, unless I am an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God who knows the best way for the world to go. I can sing “I Did It My Way” as many times as I want. It won’t, and shouldn't, happen.

The person who needs things to be as they desire will be forever weighed down by the fact of such a non-happening. They will be everlastingly miserable, as expectation after expectation remains unmet. But the one who learns how to be, in and through whatever comes their way, is the free person, living transcendent to and content in life's circumstances.[4]

Pray to be free of the need to have things always go your way.

[1] The Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky, a Trappist monastery where Merton came as a novice.
[2] Merton, Learning to Love: exploring Solitude and Freedom (The Journals of Thomas Merton), 27.
[3] Ib.
[4] Also called “living by faith.”

The Definition of Addiction


                                          (The home I grew up in, in Rockford, Illinois)

I am in danger of quoting every sentence in Gerald May's Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions.

Here, May defines "addiction."

"Addiction exists wherever persons are internally compelled to give energy to things that are not their true desires. To define it directly, addiction is a state of compulsion, obsession, or preoccupation that enslaves a person’s will and desire. Addiction sidetracks and eclipses the energy of our deepest, truest desire for love and goodness. We succumb because the energy of our desire becomes attached, nailed, to specific behaviors, objects, or people. Attachment, then, is the process that enslaves desire and creates the state of addiction." (P. 14)

The Nature of Addiction

                                                                   (Monroe County)

I am now reading, for the fourth time, Gerald May's Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions. This is the most helpful book I have ever read on dealing with addiction. In addition, it is beautifully written, by an excellent scholar.

Here's some of what I read this morning, on the nature of addiction.

"Psychologically, addiction uses up desire. It is like a psychic malignancy, sucking our life energy into specific obsessions and compulsions, leaving less and less energy available for other people and other pursuits. Spiritually, addiction is a deep-seated form of idolatry. The objects of our addictions become our false gods. These are what we worship, what we attend to, where we give our time and energy, instead of love. Addiction, then, displaces and supplants God’s love as the source and object of our deepest true desire. It is, as one modern spiritual writer has called it, a “counterfeit of religious presence.”" (Pp. 13-14)

Monday, April 19, 2021

Repression, Addiction, and the Return to God

                                    (Field of purple clover, in Monroe County, Michigan)

I've been doing a slow re-read of clinical psychiatrist Gerald May's exquisite, helpful Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions.

May writes: "After twenty years of listening to the yearning of people's hearts, I am convinced that all human beings have an inborn desire for God. Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and our most precious treasure. It gives us meaning." (1)

I preached about this yesterday at Redeemer. Some call this the sensus divinitatis. J. P. Moreland calls it "the recalcitrant imago dei." I've called it the "metaphysical impulse." In support of this, Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that "God has set eternity in our hearts."

This creates, as C.S. Lewis described it, an "inconsolable longing."

The root of this deep longing "is a longing for love. It is a hunger to love, to be loved, and to move closer to the Source of love. This yearning is the essence of the human spirit; it is the origin of our highest hopes and most noble dreams." (1)

This desire is God-given. God nourishes this desire. "But something gets in the way... The longing at the center of our hearts repeatedly disappears from our awareness, and its energy is usurped by forces that are not at all loving." (1) Persons give themselves over to things that, in their deepest honesty, they really do not want. What addict truly and deeply wants bondage?

Pascal writes that people try “vainly to fill [their emptiness] with everything around him…  But they are all inadequate, because only an infinite and immutable object—that is, God himself—can fill this infinite abyss.”

We see that this was the problem the OT prophets were speaking to.

Isaiah put it like this in 55:2–3:

Why do you spend your money
   for that which is not bread,
and your labor
   for that which does not satisfy?
Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good,
   and delight yourselves in abundance.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
   hear that your soul may live.

 The Message puts it like this.

Why do you spend your money on junk food,

your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?

Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best,
    fill yourself with only the finest.
Pay attention, come close now,
    listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words.

The biblical-theological answer to what turns us away from love is: sin. Sin turns us from loving ourselves, loving others, and loving God. May writes: "When I look at this problem psychologically, I see two forces that are responsible: repression and addiction. We all suffer from both repression and addiction. Of the two, repression is by far the milder one." (2)

We often repress our desire for love because love makes us vulnerable to being hurt. "Along with bringing joy, love can make us suffer." When the latter happens we often repress our desire for love to lessen the suffering. "This happens after someone spurns our love; we stifle our desire, and it make take us a long time before we are ready to love again. It is a normal human response; we repress our longings when they hurt us too much."

I know this is true, as verified by half the country western songs ever written (the other half being about alcohol).

Stuff that we repress does not go away. "It remains within us, skirting the edges of our consciousness. Every now and then it reminds us of its presence, as if to say, "Remember me?"" (2-3)

So that is "repression." And then there is "addiction." May says that "repression, in spite of its sinister reputation, is relatively flexible. It is workable. Addiction, the other force that turns us away from love, is much more vicious." This is because, while repression stifles desire, addiction attaches desire, bonds and enslaves the energy of desire to certain specific behaviors, things, or people. These objects of attachment then become preoccupations and obsessions; they come to rule our lives." (3)

The last verses of Ecclesiastes give us the solution. We read,

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.

Gerald May's deeply insightful text is necessary reading for anyone longing for God and the love of God, others, and freedom for oneself.

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."



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: