Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Prayer Is Being Unbusy With God

                                                      Our Grandson Levi (Photo by Josh P.)

In 1981 God called me to a deeper praying life. I needed it so badly. I was doing, doing, doing, and the inner fire was leaving, leaving, leaving. God told me to take Tuesday afternoons and pray. I needed that much time to tend the fire within. 

This was a new beginning for me, a time when my doing began to emerge from my being in God. This was important, since in the spiritual life being precedes doing. 

That first Tuesday afternoon was spent sitting on a rusty tractor in a field in a forest preserve north of Lansing, Michigan. I remember being there, trying to pray, while my mind kept asking "Just what the heck am I doing here, anyway? What am I accomplishing?" The answer seemed to be: "nothing." I wasn't xeroxing anything. I was producing (I mistakenly thought) nothing. No empirical "product" was coming forth from my being on this old tractor.

That was one of the most important days of my life. I was getting reattached to the Vine!

The writings of Henri Nouwen helped me during this time. Nouwen has influenced me as much as anyone has. I can only handle a few sentences, maybe a paragraph, of Nouwen at a time. In every Nouwen-sentence there is wisdom from on high. If leadership is influence (which it is), then Henri Nouwen is a great leader.

How did Nouwen become a great leader? The answer is: he "wasted" a lot of time praying. "Prayer," wrote Nouwen, "is wasting time with God." (In Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, pp. 19-20) "The world says, “If you are not making good use of your time, you are useless.” Jesus says: “Come spend some useless time with me.”"

Nouwen writes: "If we think about prayer in terms of its usefulness to us—what prayer will do for us, what spiritual benefits we will gain, what insights we will gain, what divine presence we may feel—God cannot easily speak to us. But if we can detach ourselves from the idea of the usefulness of prayer and the results of prayer, we become free to “waste” a precious hour with God in prayer. Gradually, we may find, our “useless” time will transform us, and everything around us will be different."

This is why I assign my Spiritual Formation students to pray. A lot. Prayer is active engagement in the mutual love relationship between the self and God. Praying is the perfect way to abide in Christ and "just be" with God. We were made for this. This is why it feels so fulfilling and is so influential. 

Nouwen writes: "Prayer is being unbusy with God instead of being busy with other things. Prayer is primarily to do nothing useful or productive in the presence of God. To not be useful is to remind myself that if anything important or fruitful happens through prayer, it is God who achieves the result. So when I go into the day, I go with the conviction that God is the one who brings forth fruit in my work, and I do not have to act as though I am in control of things. I have to work hard; I have to do my task; I have to offer my best. But I can let go of the illusion of control and be detached from the result. At the end of each day I can prayerfully say that if something good has happened, God be praised." (Ib.)

This is real prayer. Real prayer mono-tasks the God-relationship. It has no agenda other than to be with our Creator. To the world this looks like "doing nothing." To us it provides the reason for all we are called to do. Our "doing" gets relevant as it emerges out of our unbusy being-with God.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Faithfulness in Small Things Brings Dominion Over Greater Things


                                                       (Our backyard - path to the river)

Beware of people who want to rule over others. 

Beware of those who want to expand their power over others.

Yet, to those Jesus-followers who are faithful in small things, rulership over greater things is promised.

Jesus said,

You have been faithful over a few things,

I will make you ruler over many things.

Matthew 23:23

Commenting on these words of Jesus, Dallas Willard writes, "When we submit what and where we are to God, our rule or dominion then increases. For God is unlimited creative will and constantly invites us, even now, into an ever larger share in what he is doing. Like Jesus, we can enter into the work we see our Father doing." 

It is a mistake to go after dominion over greater things while neglecting a lifestyle of being faithful in small things.

Saturday, August 28, 2021



                              (This is the 90-foot Sycamore tree that fell during the recent storm.)

The Beatitudes reveal those who are honored in the kingdom of God. This kingdom manifesto can also be turned on its head to reveal the true outcasts.


Dishonored are the self-satisfied.

Cast out are those who are unmoved or amused by the misery of others.

Contaminated are those who shake their fist at God—and keep at it.

Naked and ashamed are those who hunger for earthly riches and honor more than the righteousness of the King.

Dishonored are those who refuse generosity to the needy.

Dishonored are the hypocrites who know what is culturally “nice” but are intent only on self-seeking goals.

Dishonored are those who divide people with their anger or gossip.

Dishonored are those who refuse to taste shame for the sake of Jesus’ name.

- From Edward T. Welch, Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection

Friday, August 27, 2021

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Want to Deepen Your Faith This Fall? Join me and others...




The following courses will be offered during the Fall Term

The Class Syllabuses can be found here.

The Class Times are 8 PM EDT, 7 PM CDT, 6 PM MDT, 5 PM PDT.


1. Communicating God's Word- Tim Curry

  Sunday night @ 8 PM ET Starting September 19,2021–October 24,2021

2. Apologetics (arguments for God, answers to key objections, witnessing to other religions) - John Piippo

  Monday night @ 8 PM ET Starting September 20, 2021–October 25, 2021

3. Hearing God’s Voice – Ed Owens

 Tuesday night @ 8 PM ET Starting September 21, 2021–October 26, 2021 

4. "Breaking Every Chain" Experiencing Victory in Christ – Clayton Ford

  Thursday night @ 8 PM ET Starting September 23, 2021–October 28, 2021

Avoid the Arguer

Torrey Pines, California

"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. 

The argumentative person is not to be your companion. 

Love them, but do not get entangled with them.

Let us reason together? Yes. Formulate and evaluate arguments? Of course. 
Argumentativeness? No.

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

What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 
You desire but do not have, so you kill.
You covet but you cannot get what you want,
so you quarrel and fight. 

James 4

Relationships in the New Community are not 
like living in a court of law. 
Argue? Yes. Discuss? Debate? Yes. 
Reason together? Of course. 
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.

Do not set foot on the path of the wicked
or walk in the way of evildoers.
Avoid it, do not travel on it;
turn from it and go on your way.
For they cannot rest until they do evil;
they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble.

Proverbs 4:14-16

Be a peacemaker. 
Lay down your swords. Beat them into plowshares. 
Convert your military weapons into instruments of righteousness and peace. 
Anyone can desire peace. 
Peace-makers are rare, 
are blessed, 
and are 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.
In Christ there is peace (everlastingly so, 
in the Triune Godhead).

You are in Christ.

Fulfill the prayer of Jesus in John 17 to "be one"
with others, as the Son, the Spirit, and the Father are one.

My two books are:

Coming soon - Deconstructing Progressive Christianity

Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Naturalistic Fallacy (You Can't Derive Moral Facts from Scientific Facts)


David Hume's famous "naturalistic fallacy" is: one can't derive a moral conclusion from a non-moral premise (See Burton Porter, Deity and Morality: With Regard to the Naturalistic Fallacy). Assuming this to be true, it follows that scientific facts contain no claim of inference to moral facts. Science says nothing about morality. 

A scientific fact can serve as a premise in a moral argument (an argument that concludes with a moral fact), but a scientific fact on its own cannot conclude with a moral fact. (On this see Lewis Vaughn's chapter on applying logic to moral reasoning in his The Power of Critical Thinking, which I taught to my Logic students.)

If one believes there are moral truths (moral facts; i.e. moral statements/propositions), then one must admit that science does not explain everything (as scientistic persons claim). Or, if science explains everything, then there are no moral facts. On this reasoning it would be absurd to make moral judgments such as Racism is wrong. Indeed, some physicalist ethicists affirm that moral facts are nonexistent. (Cmp. the intrinsic absurdity of, e.g., the moral outrage of a Richard Dawkins against religious people.)

If a scientistic person (viz., one who makes the non-scientific and faith-based circular claim "All facts are physical facts") argues that evolutionary theory exhaustively explains moral truths, they have committed the genetic fallacy.

If one believes moral truths exist (such as Racism is wrong), then one is philosophically indebted to the following: Non-physical facts exist. The question of the ontological status of nonphysical facts then arises. On this see, e.g., Beyond the Control of God?: Six Views on The Problem of God and Abstract Objects, Paul Gould ed.  

Monday, August 16, 2021

The Opposite of Grace is Not Effort

Dan and Allie, in Detroit

Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. 
Stay clear of silly stories 
that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! 
Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, 
but a disciplined life in God is far more so, 
making you fit both today and forever. 
You can count on this. 
Take it to heart.
1 Timothy 4:7-10 (The Message)

In 1981 my spiritual mentor gave me a copy of Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. God used this book to change my life. 

Through it God challenged me to up my spiritual life. I was introduced, in a fresh way, to the life-giving, Spirit-empowering spiritual exercises.  "Exercise unto godliness," Paul wrote. Foster gave me a way to do that.

One way I "exercise unto godliness" is by praying. Foster's book kick-started a prayer life that has never ended. I write about this in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Linda and I physically exercise in the local YMCA. The room with the treadmills and bikes and machines is coated with mirrors. In the spiritual gymnasium (yes, the Greek word in 1 Timothy is gymnaze) there are no mirrors. I am not spiritually exercising to impress anyone, to include God. For me, the spiritual exercises are the means by which I abide in Christ. In praying, for example, I am a branch connected to Jesus, the Vine. He pours His life and hope and power into me.

So thank you, God, for Richard Foster.

Foster was interviewed in Christianity Today, where he distinguished between exercising unto godliness and works righteousness. 

"Some today are concerned about “works righteousness.” That is something to watch for because “works” has to do with merit. There is nothing that we do that can merit the grace of God—we really have to come down strong on that. The disciplines have no righteousness. They don’t give me a brownie point with God.
The opposite of grace is works—but not effort. And many, many Bible passages teach us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling and strive to enter in at the narrow gate, as Jesus said. We go through a process of growth. I’m not talking about perfectionism, but I am talking about progress. All of the great classical writers on devotion work with this idea. Think of Pilgrim’s Progress and what Christian went through and how he grew in grace through the process on the journey to the celestial city." 
When I read the chapter on "Fasting" in Celebration, I desired to fast. I began fasting, periodically. I did so, not to secure Jesus' love for me, but because I love Jesus, and Jesus tells me "When you fast." I read a lot of books. No book motivated me and encouraged me in my Jesus-connectedness as much as Celebration
For more on the spiritual discipline of fasting, see...

Fasting Reveals Things That Control Us

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Michael Brown Talks With Scholars Episode 1: Prof. Craig Keener

Michael Brown interviews Craig Keener. Excellent!

J. P. Moreland on "Happiness" as a Terrible Goal

(Sunset on Kelley's Island, Ohio, Lake Erie)

Theistic philosopher J.P. Moreland, in The Lost Virtue of Happiness, writes about "happiness" as a poor goal to be sought after in. J.P. presented this material at our HSRM/Green Lake conference a few years ago. 

The bullets are:
·  American people are addicted to happiness, and they overemphasize its importance in life.

·  If, right now, you are not tremendously happy, that's OK.

· Yet, in America, if you are not happy, or your children are not happy, it seems like the world is falling apart.

· Given the American emphasis on happiness, are Americans happy? The answer, says Moreland (drawing on Martin Seligman's research), is that the rate of depression and loss of happiness has increased tenfold in the span of just one generation in America. We Americans are not a bunch of happy campers. We have an epidemic of depression and a loss of happiness.

· Yet, the Boomer generation is twice as rich, a lot healthier, more youthful, and a lot safer than our predecessors were fifty years ago. These are the kind of things that have defined the "American Dream." We are now living in this Dream. We have more discretionary time. We have more money. It takes longer to age. So we feel younger, longer. But, J.P. says, "There's just one problem with this. All of this has not only not made Americans happier. We're slowly getting worse."

·  Why is this happening? Seligman's answer is this. "The Baby Boom generation forgot how to live for something bigger than they were." Americans have been taught to get up each morning and live for their own selves and try to find meaning in their own lives, rather than live for something other than their own well-being and bigger than they are. 

·  From Moses to Solomon, to Plato and Aristotle, to Jesus and Augustine and Aquinas, to the Reformers all the way up to the 1900s, everyone meant the same thing by 'happiness.' But from the 1920s/30s on, a new definition of 'happiness' was introduced and lived by. This new definition of 'happiness' is: "a feeling of pleasurable satisfaction." (See here, e.g.)

·  "Happiness' has become a positive feeling. Moreland is not against positive feelings. He'd rather experience them than their opposite. But there are two problems with this definition of happiness: 

1) pleasurable feelings are not big enough to build your life around; and 

2) the more you try to get of it the less of it you have. 

Moreland concludes: "The best way to be happy is largely to forget about it."

·  If 'happiness' is the feeling you have, say, when your team wins; and the goal of life is to be happy, which means to retain that kind of feeling; then your goal this year is to make sure that your job, your spouse, your church, your children, etc., help you achieve that positive feeling called 'happiness.' All the aforenamed things (job, wife) are but a means to making you happy. If a man's 4-year-old wife doesn't make him happy he may trade her in for a 20-year-old woman that gives him that hap-hap-happy feeling.

·  The ancient definition of 'happiness,' used by Aristotle, is contained in the word Greek word eudaimonia, which is: to live a life of wisdom, character, and virtue." Plato thought it would be terrible if all a person did was spend his life worrying about whether he was good-looking, wealthy, and healthy. Solomon tells us the happy person is the one who lives his life wisely, reverencing and fearing God. In the New Testament the happy person is the one who looks like Jesus of Nazareth and lives the way he lives.

· How do you get that? See Matthew 16:24-26, where Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." Jesus is not here commanding us to do this. He is saying, if you want to get good at life, this is what you have to do.

·  If you want to get good at life, if you want to be blessed, learn daily to give yourself away for the sake of God and others. J.P. says, "Give yourself away to other people for the Kingdom's sake."

·   If you lose yourself, you end up finding yourself. That's the upside-down logic of Jesus. 

"Happiness makes a terrible goal. It is the byproduct of another goal, which is giving yourself away to others for the Kingdom's sake."

Thursday, August 12, 2021

iDENTITY #13 - You Are Significant to God


(Monroe County)

Thomas Merton writes: 

"I think the chief reason why we have so little joy is that we take ourselves too seriously. Joy can only be real if it is based on truth... [The]  starting point is the truth of our own insignificance in comparison with God. To penetrate the truth of how utterly unimportant we are is the only thing that can set us free to enjoy true happiness." 

(The Sign of Jonas; emphasis mine.)

"We take ourselves too seriously." Take God seriously, not yourself. The world does not revolve around you, but around God.

Joy turns to frustration and anguish when life is all about you. 

Do not water the flower of your own self so that you might bloom before others. 

Lighten up about you. 

Your reputation is unimportant; God's honor is all-important.

Pray that people might find God, not you, because you are not such a big deal. God is a big deal. 

To be free of the cultivation of one's own persona is the gateway to joy. 

If through you we see God, that will be cool. Better for us to see and find God than to discover you.

We are insignificant in comparison with God. Out of the seven billion people 
on earth, not one of them is now thinking about you. To the world at large, you are a non-issue.

OK, maybe there's one person who, right now, thinks of you, of how beautiful you are, or how intelligent and creative you are. Probably one or two or ten people love you and think of you, now. Maybe there's one person who is now angry with you and hates you, and thinks of how ignorant and irritating you are.

The majority of people (99.999999% of them) do not know you exist; hence, ipso facto, they are not thinking of you. To the world, and in this world, you are near-totally insignificant.

God, on the other hand, is significant. In this moment, right now, many are seeking God, being found by God, questioning God, asking God, arguing against God's existence, saying the name of God, worshiping God, ignoring God, reading about God, dreaming about God, standing in awe of God, saying God's name (not your's) in vain, singing God's name (not your's) in praise, writing about God, basking in God's presence, questioning God's absence, cursing God, and thanking God. God has been, is, and will be the focal issue, the central Person, in life. God is the sun around which the world revolves; you and I are specks. 

Is all this not true? Does not this truth set you free?

"To penetrate the truth of how utterly unimportant we are is the only thing that can set us free to enjoy true happiness."

As you take this breath, God is going after people, including you, with a love that knows no limits, with a pursuit that is forceful, specific, and effective. In your great insignificance and worldly-nonattention the God who is creator of all comes to you, personally, and whispers, "I love YOU." Let those words settle into the secret places of your heart. This is the time of freedom and joy.

Psalm 8:4 says: 

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way? 

(The Message) 

Who am I, God, that you are mindful of me? And yet, You are.

You are a micro-self.

God is thinking of you.


Monday, August 09, 2021

Stop Trying to Change Others

                                                   (9-1-1 Memorial, New York City)


Linda and I attended our first HSRM summer conference.

Jack Hayford was the main speaker.

In one of his messages, Jack told a story about himself. God was correcting him. God told him, "Jack, why are you trying so hard to change other people, when you can't even change yourself?"

With these words, God spoke to me, and said, "John, why are you trying so hard to change other people, when you can't even change yourself?"

The person who spends their time criticizing others lives in a dark spiritual world. They are like the Pharisee, who prayed like this: "I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector!" (Luke 18:11)

Thomas Merton writes:

"Nothing is more suspicious, in a man who seems holy, than an impatient desire to reform other men. Pay as little attention as you can to the faults of other people and none at all to their natural defects and eccentricities." (New Seeds of Contemplation)

What, then, shall we do? How shall we live? The answer is: be changed yourself. Dallas Willard writes:

I’m not entirely against starting a movement, 
but most movements 
don’t amount to very much, frankly. 
On the other hand, people who know how to stand, 
and stand in the Spirit of Christ, 
change people all around them. 
They never fail. 
They never fail. 
When you have that, 
it will never fail to change people all around you. 

Dallas Willard, “How to Be 
in the World but Not of It”

(In Gary Moon, Becoming Dallas Willard, p. 175). 

This is the power of influence. It's not about trying to change people's hearts. But as your heart is broken in the right places, you will see breakthrough in people around you.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

The Gospel Opposes the Sin of Racism - A Proposal for Unity


(Monroe sunset)

(I'm reposting this, to keep it in play.)

This is a statement crafted for followers of Jesus.

I propose we consider and pray about uniting around this statement.

Any differences in praxis can be discussed within the framework of this statement.

To see who has signed their name to this document go HERE. The signees represent much that is excellent in biblical and theological studies, and include Greg Boyd, Craig Keener, Randy Clark, Michael Brown, J. P. Moreland, Ben Witherington, and many more names that are familiar to me.

When I received an email from Craig Keener asking me to look at the statement and pray about signing it, I did. I signed. Of course!

A statement like this is significant. If we come to unity over this, then the discussion, for followers of Jesus, becomes intra-theological. Our core unity binds us together against racism. From that place of unity, we then pray about how to live out #s 4 and 5. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, will you agree with us on this?


John Piippo

The Gospel Opposes the
Sin of Racism

A Statement on Racism and the Gospel

Today’s situation requires more than a statement, but certainly no less than a statement. As evangelical academic voices, we condemn racism as contrary to Scripture and to the evangelical gospel. Evangelical history includes positively many voices for justice and pioneers of abolitionism, such as William Wilberforce, but also negatively those who assimilated the values of their surrounding unjust culture. Yet the basis of evangelical faith is Scripture, climaxing in the good news of Jesus Christ.
  • 1. In this gospel, everyone must come to God on the same terms (Rom 1:16; 3:22-24; 10:12-13; Gal 3:28; Rev 5:9; 7:9), and become one body in Christ (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12:12-13; Eph 4:4; Col 3:15).
  • 2. In reconciling Jew and Gentile in Christ (Eph 2:16), surmounting a barrier that God himself once established, God in Christ summons us to surmount every barrier erected merely by human sinfulness.
  • 3. Scripture does not discriminate by color, and, on the most common understanding of Acts 8, the first Gentile convert may have been Black and from Africa.
  • 4. Jesus, both by his example and by his teaching, summons us to serve and love fellow believers to the point of laying down our lives for them (John 13:14-17, 34-35; 1 John 3:16-18), and to love all our neighbors as ourselves (Lev 19:18; Mark 12:31; Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14).
  • 5. This invites us to be swifter to listen to others than to speak (Eph 4:29; Jms 1:19), to mourn with those who suffer (Rom 12:15), and to join them in acting for justice on their behalf (Isa 1:17; Luke 11:42; Jms 1:27).