Monday, May 31, 2021
Tim Curry and I co-preach on "You Are a Temple of the Holy Spirit."
Saturday, May 29, 2021
Friday, May 28, 2021
It's Memorial Day weekend!
Linda and I are avid readers.
We read. Therefore, we are.
My reading for this weekend is:
The biblical book of Romans. Along with reading the actual text, I've added six commentaries to my studies. I LOVE doing this! And, so far, 46 others have joined me in this summer Bible study.
This weekend I will begin moving into Romans chapter 2.
I am also reading Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment. I enjoying, and learning, from this well-written text.
Thursday, May 27, 2021
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, argues Rod Dreher in The Benedict Option, has won in the West. Mere Christianity has lost.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), argues U of Notre Dame's Christian Smith, is the de facto, default religion of American teenagers today. MTD's core beliefs are:
1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
"Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents. This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, etc. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people."
The God of MTD is "one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in our affairs—especially affairs in which we would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance."
I met MTD-ers all the time in my MCCC philosophy classes. Some thought they were Christians, or that the worldview of MTD was the worldview of Jesus. The reason for this is that, while MTD is not an official, organized religion, MTD is "colonizing" other religions. Think now of the alien in the astronaut's body who is waiting to bust out of his chest.
Read Smith's entire article for the details. See also Smith's book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.
One more quote from Smith:
"When teenagers talked in their interviews about “grace,” they were usually talking about the television show Will and Grace, not about God’s grace. When teenagers discussed “honor,” they were almost always talking about taking honors courses or making the honor role at school, very rarely about honoring God with their lives. When teens mentioned being “justified,” they almost always meant having a reason for doing something behaviorally questionable, not having their relationship with God made right."
For Smith's research project see National Study of Youth and Religion.
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Ross Douthat writes, perceptively:
"If [Michel] Foucault’s thought offers a radical critique of all forms of power and administrative control, then as the cultural left becomes more powerful and the cultural right more marginal, the left will have less use for his theories, and the right may find them more insightful."
That... is so true..., ironic, and therefore so funny!
Here is my working bibliography for my Romans Summer Bible Study.
Craig Keener, Romans (New Covenant Commentary Series)
Grant Osbourne, Romans Verse by Verse
Ben Witherington, Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary
N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1
Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 2
Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God
I use the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible.
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
|(Wellspring Lutheran Home, Monroe)|
(I am writing this for a pastor friend who feels shame that his church is having problems.)
Thirty years ago a church in the Detroit area took out a large advertisement in the local paper. The advertisement had these words: "________ Church: The Friendliest Church in America!" When I read it I felt like jockeying for position. I could advertise my church as "We're #2!" Within three years, this church had massive internal conflict, many people left, and the church imploded.
At this stage in my life as a pastor one thing I have concluded is: no church is problem free.
I can prove this. My church is not without problems, because I am in it.
We all are troubled people, growing (hopefully) into Christlikeness.
Misunderstandings and arguments and conflicts are inevitable, even among the righteous. What if God shows you someone else's problems? Francis Frangipane, in The Three Battlegrounds, says, if God shows you someone else's mess, it is only so you can pray for them, not talk to other brothers and sisters about how horrible they are.
If you are part of the mess, do not leave others with the mess. Be part of cleaning it up. Be the solution, not the voice of the problem.
As a follower of Jesus you are called to do far more than just love peace. You are to make peace. (One of the best books I've read on this is Making Peace: A Guide to Overcoming Church Conflict, by James van Yperen. See also Henri Nouwen's beautiful The Road to Peace.)
Any fool can wage war. Followers of Jesus are called to wage peace. As a pastor, I have found this to be ongoing in marriages, families, and churches. Waging peace never stops this side of the Age to Come!
"But the new church I am going to doesn't have problems." It does; certainly it will. This is important, because it is within conflict that peacemakers and reconcilers are built. These are people who run towards the battle, not away from it.
I know people like this. They say things like,
"Come, let us reason together."
I have seen people do this in my church family. When I hear of this, I cannot tell you how thankful I am and how blessed I feel!
Blessed are those who put things together,
rather than tear things apart.
Blessed are those who, more than loving peace,
Blessed are those who stay when the going gets tough,
rather than leave because the going is tough.
Blessed are those who go to the other person,
rather than tell others about the other person.
Blessed are those who deal lovingly with their anger,
rather than sleep on their anger.
Blessed are the problem-solvers,
rather than the complainers.
Blessed are the understanders,
rather than the judgers.
Blessed are the participants,
rather than the observers.
Blessed are the doers,
rather than the talkers.
Blessed are those who wage peace,
My two books are:
Friday, May 21, 2021
Thursday, May 20, 2021
Soren Kierkegaard wrote: Jesus' "whole life on earth, from beginning to end, was destined solely to have followers and to make admirers impossible." (Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, p. 85)
Rod Dreher expands on this idea.
"Admirers love being associated with Jesus, but when trouble comes, they either turn on him or in some way try to put distance between themselves and the Lord. The admirer wants the comfort and advantage that comes with being a Christian, but when times change and Jesus becomes a scandal or worse, the admirer folds." (Dreher, Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, p. 190)
Dreher then quotes Kierkegaard.
"The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases, songs, he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, will not reconstruct his life, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires. Not so for the follower. No, no. The follower aspires with all his strength to be what he admires. And then, remarkably enough, even though he is living amongst a “Christian people,” he incurs the same peril as he did when it was dangerous to openly confess Christ."
Monday, May 17, 2021
Sunday, May 16, 2021
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
In Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov Father Zossima offers this counsel on prayer: Young man, be not forgetful of prayer.
Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere,
there will be new feeling and new meaning in it
which will give you fresh courage,
and you will understand that prayer is an education.
Here are some takeaways from this quote for me.
• To pray is to learn praying. We learn more about prayer by actually praying than by reading about prayer.
• To pray is to learn about God. An intimate education in the being of God is gained in a life of praying. We learn things about God by praying that we cannot learn by reading about God.
• To pray is to grow in discernment regarding the ways of God. Praying teaches us the distinction between deciding and discerning.
• To pray is to learn to hear the shepherding voice of God. In a life of praying we learn discipleship.
• To pray is to gain and feel the heart of God. To pray is to grieve and rejoice with God. Praying educates us in sorrow and joy.
• To pray is to learn trust in God. To pray is to trust. I cannot authentically pray without trust-jumping into the arms of God.
• To pray is to gain an education in obedience. Where there is disobedience, the prayer life screeches to a grinding halt. In the obedience that emerges from the act of praying trust grows, hence prayer grows and flourishes.
• The praying person graduates with a PhD in patience.
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Monday, May 10, 2021
|Wildflower by our kitchen window.|
Richard Foster wrote a book called The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex, and Power. Tim Keller wrote Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. John Piper wrote Living in the Light: Money, Sex, and Power. The Big Three temptations in life are, arguably, money, sex, and power.
To quest after money, sex, and power is to desire the "world," as understood in Romans 12:1-2. Church leaders have done this, led their churches to follow, and in so doing have lost their way. Hence, the Consumer Church. The Entertainment Church. The Metricized Church. People-pleasing. Happy. The worship of Numbers.
See, e.g., The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus' Path of Power in a Church that has Abandoned It, by Jamin Coggin and Kyle Strobel. Their focus is on churches that have succumbed to earthly power, and how to walk in the power of Jesus.
When I began to read I found this book was delivering more than I expected. For example:
"In a culture drunk on power and in need of an intervention, the church has too often become an enabler. In many places, churches openly affirm the way from below. Instead of being told how desperately I am in need of God, I am repeatedly told how much God needs me. Instead of being exhorted to pick up my cross and follow Christ, I am told that Jesus wants to be my partner in the plan I have to rid my life of all struggles and challenges. We hear gospels of moralism, centering on my power to become a better person, and we hear sermons offering up God as merely another resource along my journey for successful and happy living. Sermons become pep talks amid a quest for power and significance. Instead of worship being an invitation to come before God in humble awe and reverence, worship becomes an experience meant to lift us above the travails of everyday life and give us a sense of transcendence. Instead of hearing God’s vision of redeeming all things in Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit, we hear of the pastor’s vision to grow an even bigger church that does bigger things so that he can be powerful and we can be powerful with him." (pp. 14-15)
My two books are:
|(Cancun - 3/1/19)|
Linda and I read The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus' Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It, by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel. It's excellent! The interviews with Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, and others are inspiring and instructive.
Chapter 8 is on the allure of toxic pastors and leaders. A toxic leader is:
- "someone who maintains power and significance by manipulating followers through their own fundamental drive to be powerful and significant."
- someone who dominates and controls others.
- someone who wields their personality to cement their power.
- someone who relegates others to positions of dependence on them, rather than on Christ.
- someone who subverts systems designed to hold themsselves accountable.
- someone who quickly establishes scapegoats when they fail.
- someone who does not develop other leaders, because they pose a threat to their own power.
- someone who creates "an unhealthy symbiosis between themselves and the organizations they lead, such that their absence would equal the collapse of the organization."
- someone who has ceased living "according to the way of Jesus - the way of love, humanization, and truth, giving himself (or herself) to the way of manipulation, dehumanization, and deception."
Why do churches with toxic leaders do nothing about this? Because, say Goggin and Strobel, this is what we want. "These are precisely the people we believe possess the "it factor." This is what we are looking for."
"The reason we desire toxic leaders, according to Jean Lipman-Blumen, is because toxic leaders promise to “keep us safe, anoint us as special, and offer us a seat at the community table.” We want a sense of safety, significance, and belonging, and they are offering it in exchange for loyalty." (P. 148)
Letters to the Church, by Francis Chan (See also this recent interview with Chan)
The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus' Path of Power in a Church that has Abandoned It, by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
And one more - my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.
All three are about Spirit-led, Spirit-driven, Spirit-empowered churches. All three come out of deep concern for the American Consumer-Driven Church.
Goggin and Strobel, in their interview with Eugene Peterson, describe the American Church as following the "way of the dragon." Peterson writes:
"We choose: we follow the dragon and his beasts along their parade route, conspicuous with the worship of splendid images, elaborated in mysterious symbols, fond of statistics, taking on whatever role is necessary to make a good show and get the applause of the crowd in order to get access to power and become self-important." (In Goggin, p. 138)
Here is "the way of the lamb":
"Or we follow the Lamb along a farmyard route, worshiping the invisible, listening to the foolishness of preaching, practicing a holy life that involves heroically difficult acts that no one will ever notice, in order to become, simply, our eternal selves in an eternal city. It is the difference, politically, between wanting to use the people around us to become powerful (or, if unskilled, getting used by them), and entering into covenants with the people around us so that the power of salvation extends into every part of the neighborhood, the society, and the world that God loves." (Peterson, in Ib.)
Goggin and Strobel write:
"The way of the dragon is fixated on the spectacular, obsessed with recognition and validation, intoxicated by fame and power. The way of the Lamb is committed to worship, pursues God in the ordinary, and is faithful in hiddenness. The dragon devours and dominates, while the Lamb humbly and sacrificially serves." (Ib., p. 139)
They summarize the two ways as follows.
First, the way of the dragon . . .
- The pastor uses the church as a platform for personal fame, fortune, and influence.
- The pastor views ministry as an arena of performance, where some win and some lose.
- The pastor uses the people of the church as tools to accomplish their big dreams.
- The pastor relegates prayer and care, the heart of pastoral work, to “lower-level” staff because they don’t have time to waste.
- The pastor views other pastors primarily as competition.
Second, the way of the Lamb . . .
- The pastor gives their life for the sake of the church, regardless of what they gain.
- The pastor views ministry as an arena of love and service, not winning and losing.
- The pastor embraces their congregation as people to know and love, not tools to use for other ends.
- The pastor views prayer and care as the centerpiece of their work, rather than an interruption.
- The pastor views other pastors not as competition, but as fellow shepherds on the journey whom they need for encouragement and wisdom, and who they are called to encourage and love.
(Ib., pp. 139-140)