Saturday, June 26, 2021

Preaching Sunday, June 27, 7:45 - Watch on Live Stream

 I will speak at our HSRM conference

Sunday evening, June 27

7:45 PM


Addressing Progressive Christianity


                                                               (Gatlinburg aquarium)

Linda and I strongly recommend Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity.

I am doing two workshops on Deconstructing Progressive Christianity. 

The first is Wednesday, June 30, Green Lake (Wisconsin), at our HSRM conference.

The second is at Redeemer, Wed., July 7, 6:30 PM. (If you are coming please let me know.) 

And, I am submitting a manuscript of my book on Progressive Christianity, Aug. 15, to a publisher who has shown interest. (This does not mean they will accept it. But, they are encouraging me to submit it.)

Friday, June 25, 2021

Studying Atonement in Romans


                                                             (Ladybug, in my house.)

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures...

1 Corinthians 15:3

I'm enjoying doing Romans for my Summer Bible Study. 51 have joined me! I've taught this book many times. And, as a result, studied and re-studied it over the decades. And, several years ago, I preached verse-by-verse through Romans, over a period of almost two years!

In Romans a number of big biblical themes come forth. Such as the cross, and atonement. And, of course, salvation.

These are particularly important themes for such a time as this, because "progressive" Christians are denying historical, orthodox views of atonement. Many are universalists, and say postmodern things like "Jesus died on a cross, not to pay for our sins, but to 'speak truth to power'." (E.g., progressivists like Rob Bell and William Paul Young, et. al.) 

If you are interested in digging deep, check these out.

The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (essays and responses by Greg Boyd, Joel Green, Bruce Reichenbach, and Thomas Schreiner). I learn much from reading the "Views" books!

What Did the Cross Accomplish: A Conversation About the Atonement, by N. T. Wright and Simon Gathercole (who both hold a variant of penal substitution)

Atonement and the Death of Christ: An Exegetical, Historical, and Philosophical Explanation, by William Lane Craig. (Penal substitution theory [the bane of progressives!])

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

My Calling to Be a Pastor

                                         (Pine tree and moon, our backyard)

Moses' calling by God changed his life forever. Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"When God spoke to him out of the burning bush, he was asking Moses to take the difficult journey of “rising to personality”—rising to the full purpose of his being here on earth—in order to realize the meaning of his life. He was asking him to become more fully the person he had always been and at the same time to transcend it." (Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 83) 

My transcending moment came through a church bulletin announcement. It altered the course of my life forever. I was 21, and a brand new Jesus-follower. My heart was untainted by church politics (or any politics), and my knowledge of the Bible and Jesus was slim. I just knew I had been rescued by Jesus, and loved him for this. 

The line in the bulletin read: "Please pray that our church would find a new youth leader." This was Tabor Lutheran Church, in Rockford, Illinois. I grew up in Tabor. I liked my church family. My father served as a deacon. He was a quiet man, so it still creates wonder in me to think that he taught Sunday School, and I was in one of his classes.

I was never involved in Tabor's youth group, being consumed with playing sports and practicing guitar. I never led anything like a Sunday School class or a Bible study, nor would have wanted to. I'd never prayed out loud. I rarely prayed at all. I didn't turn to God for anything, ever, until the day when, in my desperation, I said "God, if you are real, help me." He did.

For two Sundays in a row the line in the bulletin read: "Please pray that our church would find a new youth leader." You mean we haven't found one yet? The kids in this church need a leader! Having been spiritually leaderless myself I knew this to be fact. Every kid needs a mentor. I had been mentored by my peers, did a lot of self-mentoring, and the results were disastrous. I was lost. But now, at last, was "found." I wanted Tabor's teens to experience The Rescue, as I had.

On week three of the announcement I came to Sunday morning worship service looking forward to, of all things, reading the bulletin. There it was: "Please pray that our church would find a new youth leader." I felt an urgency about this. I began praying. Throughout the following week this was on my prayer list: "O God, please, please bring someone to help our church's youth." And then it happened. I told God, sounding like Sarah, "Surely you are joking?"

I called Pastor Harvey Johnson, and made an appointment to get together. I had never done anything like this before. (The words "I've never done something like this before" were to become thematic in my life.) I wonder what he thought I wanted to talk about?

I admired and respected Pastor Johnson. I was nervous on the day I met with him. Part of me felt foolish, a rookie with zero job experience, applying for a position that begged for credentials.

"I have seen the announcement in the bulletin. Has any progress been made on finding a youth leader?"


I can't remember the words I used next. Somehow I expressed my idea, my sense, that God was appealing to me to work as Tabor's Youth Leader. I remember feeling how unwise this sounded to me. I told Pastor Johnson about my new life in Christ, and confessed that I had not even heard the words "seminary training" before. After much listening and sharing he affirmed my calling. "I think God wants you to do this, so let's do it." He seemed genuinely grateful that God had finally answered his prayers.

Sometimes I have wondered what my life would look like had that announcement not been in the bulletin, or if Tabor found another youth leader, or if Pastor Johnson had told me, "John, you don't have the training and experience for this." That would have been understandable. I am still amazed that he supported me in this! T

Barton quotes Greg Levoy:

"Calls are essentially questions. They aren’t questions you necessarily need to answer outright; they are questions to which you need to respond, expose yourself, and kneel before. You don’t want an answer you can put in a box and set on a shelf. You want a question that will become a chariot to carry you across the breadth of your life." (Ib., 84)

This was my calling to be a pastor. I began to shepherd Tabor's teens. In a few months Linda would join me. Now, I see God's hand in it all, and I have never wanted to rewind my life so that things would have turned out differently.

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Empirical Verifiability of Sin (More on Systemic Sin)

(Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio)

I was recently asked, "What, if anything, is the common thread running through the world's religions?" The answer to that is: the world's religions agree that ours is a troubled world. The world's religions attempt to help people live in our messed-up world. (See Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World.)

We, the people, are messed up. Including you and me. This is beyond-easy to verify. Alvin Plantinga, in Knowledge and Christian Belief, writes: "G. K. Chesterton once remarked that of all the doctrines of Christianity, the doctrine of original sin has the strongest claim to "empirical verifiability."" (K1179) Crudely, this means: open your senses and behold how screwed up humanity is. 

"Empirical verifiability" means this: a statement is true (= a certain state of affairs obtains) if that statement is verifiable in principle via the five senses. (Analytic statements, such as A is A, are true analytically; i.e., the predicated state of affairs is contained in the subject.) Plantinga writes:

"It [evil; sin] has been abundantly verified in the wars, cruelty, and general hatefulness that have characterized human history from its very inception to the present. Indeed, no century has seen more organized hatred, contempt, and cruelty than the late and unlamented twentieth; and none has seen it on as grand a scale." (Ib., K1188)

People who live self-reflective lives have, upon introspection, discovered "seeds of destruction" and "violence within." (See Thomas Merton and Paul Tournier.] I have. You would see the same in you, if you routinely subjected yourself to self-examination.

One more thing: the cause of most human suffering due to sin has been perpetrated, at least in the 20th century, by atheists. Plantinga writes elsewhere:

"Of course the world’s religions do indeed have much to repent; still (as has often been pointed out) the suffering, death, and havoc attributable to religious belief and practice pales into utter insignificance beside that due to the atheistic and secular ideologies of the twentieth century alone." (Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism . Oxford University Press. Kindle Location 104. See also this.) 

Thus, we can be done with the sophomoric, unstudied idea that sin is the special province of religious people. We can relegate, to the garbage heap of utopianism,  ideas like those in John Lennon's "Imagine." 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Social Justice Theory Is Especially Rooted in Postmodernism


                                                (Antique Chrysler, in Monroe, Michigan)

I recommend, once again, for those who believe that, as much as possible, all sides ought to be studied before making evaluations, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity - And Why This Harms Everybody. Written by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, who are, BTW, atheists (I mention this because of the vast proliferation of all who worship the genetic fallacy).

Postmodernism, they argue, especially dominates certain ideologies, in its intentionality, to the relative exclusion of other ideologies. "Theory" is one of them. (Not all metanarratives are embraced equally.) 

Pluckrose and Lindsay write:

"That is what we set out to provide in this book: a guide to the language and customs that are presently widely promoted under the pleasant-sounding moniker “Social Justice.” We are fluent in both the language and culture of Social Justice scholarship and activism, and we plan to guide our readers through this alien world, charting the evolution of these ideas from their origins fifty years ago right up to the present day. 

"We begin in the late 1960s, when the group of theoretical concepts clustered around the nature of knowledge, power, and language that came to be known as postmodernism emerged from within several humanities disciplines at once. At its core, postmodernism rejected what it calls metanarratives—broad, cohesive explanations of the world and society. It rejected Christianity and Marxism. It also rejected science, reason, and the pillars of post-Enlightenment Western Democracy. Postmodern ideas have shaped what has since mostly been called Theory—the entity which is, in some sense, the protagonist of this book. In our view, it is crucial to understand the development of Theory from the 1960s until the present day if we are to come to terms with and correct for the rapid shifts we have been experiencing in society ever since its inception, and especially since 2010. Of note, throughout this book, Theory (and related words, such as Theorist and Theoretical) with a capital T will refer to the approach to social philosophy that stems from postmodernism."

Which means, postmodernism is itself a metanarrative, as is Theory. Pluckrose and Lindsay brilliantly bring this out.


See here - click on "Testimonials."

And here -

Or...  ("What Cynical Theories expresses is not a paranoid state of mind. It is a genuine concern about the threat that social justice activism, identity politics, and the legacy of postmodernism poses to Enlightenment liberalism and the belief that “disagreement and debate [are] means to getting at the truth.” The book explains how we have arrived at a state in which social justice scholarship treats the principles and themes of postmodernism as The Truth, where no dissent is tolerated, and anyone who disagrees must be cancelled.")

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Justification in Romans


                                                             (Flowers in our back yard.)

51 people have joined my Summer Romans Bible Study.

One of the Big Words in Romans is "justified."

I'm digging deep into this concept. One resource I just picked up is Justification: Five Views. I just finished the first two chapters. So good that I am going to re-read them!

Note these reviews.

"Of all the multiple views books, this one was needed most. It is also perhaps the best yet: getting Horton, Dunn, Bird, Kärkkäinen, O'Collins and Rafferty all at the table at the same time under the same roof is both a tour de force and a brilliant example of how their interaction can teach each of us. One word is needed most for the justification debate at work among (mostly) evangelicals, the word listen, and if you listen to the pages of this book you will see examples of not listening and listening. The challenge remains for all of us: will we listen again to the Scriptures to hear what it says about justification? Or will we impose our systems of thought on the Bible?" (Scot McKnight, North Park University)

"Beilby and Eddy have raised the bar with regard to this multiple views genre, this time bringing together world-renowned scholars and theologians to engage a very hot topic. Reading Justification: Five Views is like being treated to five books by five masters of their craft, each going deep into the details at times but yet also stepping back to cover the forest ably enough for the less initiated to appreciate what is at stake. A must-read for those interested in the ecumenical implications of the doctrine of justification." (Amos Yong, Regent University School of Divinity)

"No single volume could possibly cover all Christian views of the doctrine of justification. Justification: Five Views courageously selects five contemporary views and helpfully presents and critiques them. Each view is expounded and defended by a leading proponent and then critiqued by other contributors. Anyone interested in the current discussion about this crucial Christian doctrine must read this book. It sheds more light than heat in an area of theology almost burned over by heated polemics. Of all the 'views' books out there, this is one of the best." (Roger E. Olson, professor of theology, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University)

"A wonderfully useful book. After a superb historical survey of the issues to be debated, five influential approaches to the doctrine of justification by faith are presented and defended by credible and engaging representatives. I can think of no better introduction to these important debates than this outstanding volume." (Alister E. McGrath, King's College, London)

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Jesus Saw the Warning Signs in the Court of the Gentiles


On Sunday at Redeemer (6/20/21) I'll teach on Jesus' Temple confrontation with the money exchangers.

I'll refer to this archaeological discovery - a "Warning sign" located in the Court of the Gentiles in Herod's temple.

See here - 

Ancient Temple Mount ‘warning’ stone is ‘closest thing we have to the Temple’.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Doing Worship Reps In the Spiritual Gymnasium

"Practice makes perfect" - Hezekiah 2:1.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
- Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

"Train yourself to be godly."
- Paul, 1 Timothy 4:7

Linda and I are spending time in Gatlinburg today and tomorrow. The deck of our hotel room looks directly down to a mountain stream. with the rushing waters as background, we are doing the things that connect us to Jesus. We are in "strict training, competing in the spiritual Olympics." We're not spiritually exercising to gain God's love. Rather, it is because we are God's son and daughter that we "train ourselves to be godly." For us, this is how we abide in Christ. It is our lifeblood!

Let me explain.

The Greek words of 1 Timothy 4:7 are: γύμναζε δὲ σεαυτὸν πρὸς εὐσέβειαν. The first word of this phrase is gymnaze. We get the words "gym" and "gymnasium" from this word. Paul instructs Timothy to exercise in the spiritual gymnasium. Do worship reps and prayer reps and Scripture reps (AKA meditation on Scripture).

In Christian spirituality, repetition (AKA "meditation") is good. We learn to pray and learn about prayer as relationship with God, not primarily by reading books on prayer or attending conferences on prayer, but by actually praying, and praying a lot.

"They all joined together constantly in prayer" - Acts 1:14. (Not: "They all read books about prayer." And not: "They believed in prayer but didn't have time for praying.")

Wanting to pray without engaging in lots of prayer means nothing. Desire without discipline is an illusion. Intentions minus actions = nothing.

Serious weightlifters and bodybuilders do lots and lots of reps to build muscle. Analogically, constant praying builds spiritual strength. Contrast this to a little McPrayer, which only builds up spiritual cholesterol. McPraying hardens the spiritual arteries. But many prayer reps in God's Gymnasium makes for a strong heart.

Constant repetition forms habits. Habits create new neural connections in the physical brain. I am pleased to see N.T. Wright writing about such things: "When people consistently make choices about their patterns of behavior, physical changes take place within the brain itself... Parts of the brain actually become physically enlarged when an individual’s behavior regularly exercises them." Wright, N. T., After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters,  p. 37). 

The physical brain is "plastic"; it is malleable. It changes. This is good news for anyone who want to change. For example, if you are a guitar player and want to play like Joe Satriani, then practice scales in the Lydian mode - over and over and over and over and... ad infinitum.  When you can play them without striving over them, that is the sign that, neurally, your physical brain has morphed into Satrianilikeness..

Paul, without knowing a thing about contemporary neuroscience, would be pleased. Exercise unto godliness! Choose to go apart to pray and meditate on Scripture today. Then, choose this tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. God, by His Spirit, will morph your heart into a praying, Scripture-loving heart. Prayer and Scripture meditation will become "second nature." At this point striving and rule-keeping disappears. N.T. Wright refers to this as the development of Christlike "character." Wright writes:

"Jesus... speaks repeatedly about the development of a particular character. Character—the transforming, shaping, and marking of a life and its habits—will generate the sort of behavior that rules might have pointed toward but which a “rule-keeping” mentality can never achieve. And it will produce the sort of life which will in fact be true to itself—though the “self” to which it will at last be true is the redeemed self, the transformed self, not the merely “discovered” self of popular thought... In the last analysis, what matters after you believe is neither rules nor spontaneous self-discovery, but character." (Wright, N. T., After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, p. 7).

Wright gives, as an analogy of how God forms the human heart into Christlikeness (Gal. 4:19), the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger and Flight 1549. When Sullenberger's Airbus A320 took off from New York's La Guardia Airport everything was fine. But the Airbus flew into a flock of Canada geese. Both engines were damaged and lost their power. Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot had to make several major decisions instantly. Wright describes them:

"In the two or three minutes they had before landing, Sullenberger and his copilot had to do the following vital things (along with plenty of other tasks that we amateurs wouldn’t understand). They had to shut down the engines. They had to set the right speed so that the plane could glide as long as possible without power. (Fortunately, Sullenberger is also a gliding instructor.) They had to get the nose of the plane down to maintain speed. They had to disconnect the autopilot and override the flight management system. They had to activate the “ditch” system, which seals vents and valves, to make the plane as waterproof as possible once it hit the water. Most important of all, they had to fly and then glide the plane in a fast left-hand turn so that it could come down facing south, going with the flow of the river. And—having already turned off the engines—they had to do this using only the battery-operated systems and the emergency generator. Then they had to straighten the plane up from the tilt of the sharp-left turn so that, on landing, the plane would be exactly level from side to side. Finally, they had to get the nose back up again, but not too far up, and land straight and flat on the water." (Ib., pp. 19-20)

How was Sullenberger able to pull this off? Wright says it was due to the "power of right habits." "You might say it was the result of many years of training and experience. You could call it “character,” as we have done so far in this book. Ancient writers had a word for it: virtue." (Ib., p. 20)

"Virtue, in this strict sense, is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices, requiring effort and concentration, to do something which is good and right but which doesn’t “come naturally”—and then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required “automatically,” as we say." (Ib.)

Consider this. When Jesus was hanging on the cross he looked at his torturers and asked the Father to forgive them. They don't know what they are doing. Here, in Jesus, was a heart of compassion. Jesus was not wearing a "WWID" bracelet, asking himself, "In this situation, What Would I Do?" On the contrary, his heart was compassionate and cruciform; his heart was love-shaped. Jesus actually loved (= felt love + acted on it) his oppressors and enemies. This is the amazing love of Jesus!

Another amazing Jesus-idea is found in Paul's hope that Christ might be formed in us; i.e., that our hearts might be Christ-shaped. If we have cruciformed hearts we will not have to ask "What Would Jesus Do?" We simply will act as Jesus acts. How does such a heart-transformation happen? Paul's answer is found in Romans 12:1-2.

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed [meta-morphed; change of form] by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Choose to move your whole being (this includes your physical body) to a quiet place and pray. Choose to pick up Scripture and eat God's Word. Tomorrow, choose these things again. The day after tomorrow, choose these things. And the next day. And the next. Wright describes what happens like this:

"Virtue, in this strict sense, is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices, requiring effort and concentration, to do something which is good and right but which doesn’t “come naturally”—and then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required “automatically,” as we say. On that thousand and first occasion, it does indeed look as if it “just happens” but reflection tells us that it doesn’t “just happen” as easily as that. If you or I had been flying the Airbus A320 that afternoon, and had done what “comes naturally,” or if we’d allowed things just “to happen,” we would probably have crashed into the Bronx. (Apologies to any actual pilots reading this: you, I hope, would have done what Captain Sullenberger did.) As this example shows, virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become “second nature.” Not “first nature,” as though they happened “naturally.” Rather, a kind of second-order level of “naturalness.” Like an acquired taste, such choices and actions, which started off being practiced with difficulty, ended up being, yes, “second nature.” (Ib., 20-21)

Dallas Willard has been writing about such things for years. In Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation and the Restoration of the Soul, Willard describes a "disciple" of Christ as one who chooses to follow after Christ. A real disciple engages in the kind of spiritual disciplines Jesus engaged in while on earth. A Jesus-followers chooses to pray, chooses to get alone with God (solitude), chooses to fast as God leads, and chooses to memorize Scripture. God wants us to choose these spiritual behaviors so that, by the Spirit's power, the spiritual benefits of doing lots of prayer reps come to us. In this way spiritual strength and muscle is formed. Willard writes:

"What is discipline? A discipline is an activity within our power--something we can do--which brings us to a point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort. Discipline is in fact a natural part of the structure of the human soul, and almost nothing of any significance in education, culture or other attainments is achieved without it. Everything from learning a language to weight lifting depends upon it, and its availability in the human makeup is what makes the individual human being responsible for the kind of person they become."

What happens as a result is "soul reformation." Willard says: "It is in union with these activities that God "restores my soul." The result is that I walk in paths of righteousness on his behalf as a natural expression of my renewed inner nature. Now my experiences and responses are all "hooked up" correctly. To develop a thorough understanding of this process and outcome on the basis of factual studies would be a major step toward attaining a genuinely Christian psychology or theory of the soul."

"Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training." Do you want to compete in life? If yes, then do many sets of prayer reps and worship reps, and then do them tomorrow, and train the day after that, and the next day, and the next...  It is precisely as Christ is more and more formed in you that the striving and self-will ceases.

For more on prayer see my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

For how cultural and religious liturgies shape the human soul see James K. A, Smith's excellent book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

Monday, June 14, 2021

Inner Peace Is Not Circumstantial (Solitude Is a Deepening of the Present)

Anderson Gardens
Rockford, Illinois 


"Solitude is not found so much by looking outside the boundaries of your dwelling as by staying within them. Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present; and unless you look for it in the present, you will never find it.
- Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas, 262

Years ago a friend of mine whose inner being was tormented  decided to go alone to a cabin in the north woods and spend time with God. He went to an isolated cabin in Canada. The setting was pristine and beautiful. He lasted a couple of days before he came home. He had brought all his inner agitation plus his physical brain with him and couldn't handle it. He could not be alone with himself.

A change of geographical location will not heal the troubled heart. 

The idea that "If I could only be elsewhere, then I'd be better" is a delusion. 

This is good news. If our inner well-being was a function of our outer physical space we would remain forever in bondage unless we travel.

Contentment and peace are not functions of our physical environment or life circumstances. In solitude, where you are right now, God can "deepen the present." 

Jean-Pierre de Caussade, in his classic book The Sacrament of the Present Moment, writes: 

"Divine action cleanses the universe, pervading and flowing over all creatures. Wherever they are it pursues them. It precedes them, accompanies them, follows them. We have only to allow ourselves to be borne along on its tide." (3)

The apostle Paul wrote: 

"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (Phil. 4:11-12) 

Inner peace is not circumstantial. The marketing strategies of our world tell us otherwise. The reason is: God is now with you. If you are a Jesus-follower, Christ, the hope of glory, is within you. Christ-in-you is not now in a panic room. He is not agitated. He is not freaking out. His peace is not determined by our situatedness. 

In John 14:27 Jesus instructs his disciples, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." How do we access the peace of Christ? Jesus says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

As we abide in Christ we gain his peace. This world's pseudo-peace is conditional on our circumstances. The peace that calms the agitated seas of our hearts is conditional on connectedness to Christ. As I abide in Christ, I experience his peace. 

This is fully available now. In the present moment. You won't need move to access it. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Understanding People Is Superior to Judging People

When Linda and I counsel people, our first goal is to understand them. Understanding precedes evaluation. This is true for your doctor, as well as your auto mechanic. It's Rule #1 when it comes to dealing with conflict in relationships.

This has been a good, and hard, life lesson for me. Because I have judged people, at times, wrongly. This has taught me to go slow when it comes to understanding another person's heart.

I am asking God to free my heart from being quick to judge the hearts of others. I don't want to spend the hours of my life doing that.

What about judging behaviors? We can, and will, do that. We can make judgments about many things without being judgmental. Here, for example, is a moral judgement: It's wrong to rape people for fun. I judge this statement to be true.

When it comes to people, one cannot make a reasonable judgment without first understanding. It is foolish to judge without understanding. 

Here things get tricky, because it is about the hearts of other people. So Linda and I go slow here. We barely understand the complexities of our own heart. How can we think we have access to the inner workings of another person's heart and mind? Yet this is what the judgmental person claims. They say, "I know what you are thinking!" Or: "I know why you did that!" Which makes us want to respond by saying, "Just who are you - God?"

Instead of judging, understand. Strive to understand others and be understood by them. When understanding is the goal, judgmentalism often morphs into compassion.

Time spent judging the hearts of other people is wasted time. Because:
  • First - our judgments can be wrong, and are probably incomplete.
  • Second - judgmentalism has no redemptive value. The point of judging others' hearts is simply: to judge others' hearts. There is an intrinsic circularity, a sick redundancy, to judgmentalism.
  • Third - we can't change peoples' hearts anyway, so why waste time judging them? Years ago God told me, "John, why are you trying so hard to change other people,  when you can't even change your own self?"
I have spent too much "judging time" towards other people. It is non-redemptive, non-edifying, and hateful. I have judged people falsely (even in my own home), with the result being, not corporate household transformation into truth and love, but a deformed, loveless heart inside me.

Spend time with God today.

Ask God to search out your heart. 

Spend your life on being searched-out by God, instead of playing God with the hearts of people.

If God reveals to you some truth about another person's struggle, thank him that he has entrusted you with this knowledge, and pray for that person.

If they should come to you for wisdom, it can be a sign that they trust you. They trust you to understand them. And, out of that understanding, discern the good and perfect will of God for them.

My books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Systemic Sin

(Sterling State Park, in winter.)

Are religious people exceptionally evil, more so than atheists? I doubt it. The propensity to do evil is intrinsic to the human condition. Call this "systemic sin." No one gets a statue erected in their honor.

Even if I were an atheist I would agree with the following.

Henri Nouwen writes:

"We cannot dismiss the horrendous cruelties about which we read in the papers as "things we would never do." The wounds and needs that lie behind the wars we condemn are the wounds and needs that we share with the whole human race. We too are deeply marked by the dark forces that make one war emerge after another. We too are part of the evil against which we protest. Here we catch a glimpse of the true sinfulness of our humanity. It is a sin so deeply anchored in us that it pervades all of our lives."
- Nouwen, The Road to Peace, p. 13

Thomas Merton writes: "Who can swear that his intentions are pure, even down to the subconscious depths of his will, where ancient selfish motives move comfortably like forgotten sea monsters in waters where they are never seen!" (Merton, No Man Is an Island, 115)

The atheist psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed that all humans are innately evil and aggression lies within each human as part of their nature. 

And then there is Thomas Hobbes who, in Leviathan, wrote that only a strong government could secure us from destroying ourselves. "Every man is enemy to every man," Hobbes wrote. And "the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Not a very high view of humanity!

The Christian idea is that all persons have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. From this, we need to be rescued.

Here self-reflection, guided by God, helps me. One of my constant prayers is from Psalm 139:23-24.

Search me, God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting.


Deliver us from evil...

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Encounters with the Holy Spirit

Now $2.99 on Kindle.

$3.53 for a paperback.

This book contains beautiful and inspiring chapters on the Holy Spirit, written by my HSRM ministry colleagues.


My Calling in the Culture Wars


                                                       (Lake Erie, Monroe, Michigan)

I'm reading Jacques Ellul's Presence in the Modern World. Early in the book Ellul shares his calling from God, hence his raison d'etre, rooted in Romans 12:2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I share this calling, too. Ellul explains.

“Do not be conformed to the present age.” There are two possible conformities. The first is voluntary adherence (and for this, it was enough to understand political programs, economic plans, and doctrines). But what drew me more, and what seemed to me to fit the level of Paul’s thinking, was unconscious, involuntary adherence—which is so evident in this present age that we don’t even think about it: these unspoken rules, taboos, and unquestioned truths that form a group’s unconscious and subconscious. The “present age” is filled with evidence of this. But I completely rejected the interpretation by which this “present age” (aiōn) is a kind of metaphysical reality, opposed to the coming kingdom, and always the same in itself. This present age was neither the particular one that Paul inhabited, nor a mysterious entity that was always the same; to me, each generation needed to recognize that it concerns its own age. So I needed to devote myself to discerning the foundations, structures, and components of the present “age,” . . . that is, the twentieth century. To do this, it would be necessary to understand the most important facts and also to interpret them accurately." (Emphasis mine.)

This is why I pay virtually no attention to social media posts and chats and arguments, since they exemplify "unconscious, involuntary adherence" to worldviews and ideologies. As best I can, I am looking at "foundations, structures, and components of the present age." 

More people are needed here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Don't Love Peace, Make Peace

Torrey Pines

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

Do not partner with an argumentative person. They are not in touch with wisdom. Love them, but do not be influenced by them.

Enter not into the arguments of the argumentative person. They are fishing for a fight. Don't take the bait.

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

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

Don't love peace, make peace. Anyone can love peace. Peace-makers are God's active agents of peace. They are rare, are blessed, and are called the offspring of God. 

Lay down your sword. Beat it mercifully into a plowshare. Recycle your weapons into instruments of righteousness and peace. 
  1. Be at peace with God.
  2. Peace with God brings peace within.
  3. Peace within leads to peace with others.

  4. Or:
  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. And thus fulfill the prayer of Jesus in John 17 to "be one" with others, as Jesus and the Father are one.