Sunday, January 23, 2022

Parents Have the Greatest Influence on the Religious Life of Children

 

                                                                     (Our back yard)


In my sermon this morning (listen HERE) I mentioned a recent article on the brilliant sociologist Christian Smith (Notre Dame U.) I've been reading Smith's research on the religious life of adolescents for two decades. In this article Smith reiterates the claim that parents have the greatest influence of the religious beliefs of adolescents.

Here's a quote from the article.

"Parents define for their children the role that religious faith and practice ought to play in life, whether important or not, which most children roughly adopt. Parents set a “glass ceiling” of religious commitment above which their children rarely rise. Parental religious investment and involvement is in almost all cases the necessary and even sometimes sufficient condition for children’s religious investment and involvement.

All empirical data tell us that for intergenerational religious transmission today, the key agents are parents, not clergy or other religious professionals. The key location is the home, not religious congregations. And the key mechanisms of socialization are the formation of ordinary life practices and identities, not programs, preaching, or formal rites of passage."

- "Parents Set the Pace for Their Adult Children's Religious Life"

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Self-Forgiveness and Liberation from the Past



If you struggle with self-hatred I recommend Everett Worthington's book Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free From the Past. Worthington is Professor of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and a follower of Jesus.









                        (Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio)
If you struggle with self-hatred and an inability to forgive yourself, I strongly recommend Everett Worthington's Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free from the Past.

I meet many who cannot forgive their own selves from past failures, whether real or imagined. Un-self-forgiveness is a mental and spiritual assassin. Self-forgiveness rooted in God's great act of forgiveness in Christ is liberating.

Self-forgiveness will free you from guilt. "Sometimes guilt arises over unrealistic expectations and standards of perfection that none of us can achieve. When you are able to forgive yourself, that weight is lifted." (Worthington, p. 45)

Self-forgiveness will free you from self-blame. "Self-forgiveness frees you from the chattering, accusing voice in your head." (Ib., 46)

Self-forgiveness will free you from stress-related illness. "Self-forgiveness can improve your health, 1 and here’s why. Holding on to self-condemnation elevates your stress, which has been associated with a long list of physical and psychological harm." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness can liberate you from alcohol misuse. "Forgiveness of the self might be, for alcoholics, the most difficult type of forgiveness to achieve. But if they were able to do so, it could help control their drinking." (Ib., p. 47)

Self-forgiveness can liberate you from accusation. "By bringing our sins to God and receiving God’s forgiveness, we can then forgive ourselves and we can rest in the knowledge that the accusations of Satan are groundless. If we forgive ourselves, we can silence the oppressive voice of the enemy." (Ib., 47)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for flourishing. "By not being so wrapped up in self-condemnation, you can enjoy more pleasurable and positive experiences." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for focusing on God. "Instead of being wrapped up in condemning yourself for past failures, you can seek God and enjoy that relationship." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for focusing on others. "Self-forgiveness allows you to focus on others, with the goal of helping to meet their needs." (Ib., p. 48)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for health. "Self-forgiveness provides energy and vitality. It supplies both a freedom from the past and a forward-thinking orientation that helps you seek the benefits of exercise, a healthy diet, and energetic work." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for a better quality of life. "Self-forgiveness can matter greatly in enhancing one’s quality of life." (Ib., 50)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for peace. "People who continue to wrestle with self-blame are unsettled. They find it difficult to exhale and relax. Forgiving yourself will help you live at peace." (Ib.)

Worthington cites empirical studies supporting these conclusions. Given the great benefits of self-forgiveness, why would anyone choose to wallow in self-condemnation?


***
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Friday, January 21, 2022

God Save You From Yourself (Not "You Be You")

 

                                                                     (Monroe County)

Linda and I meet with many people. Some of these meetings are for giving counsel, and whatever wisdom we might have.

Years ago we were counseling a woman who was filled with anger. People had hurt her. Linda and I were showing her the way out of her bondage. This included self-examination, self-forgiveness, a deep connection with Jesus, and forgiveness from the heart extended to her enemies. (See here, esp., The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love, by University of Wisconsin psychologist Robert Enright.) 

There were deep wounds inside her. We were beginning to get at them. She was being rescued from herself!

But then, she began posting on social media. She was venting, and blaming, posturing, and accusing. In her mind, she was expressing her freedom and power. It was sad to see her do this. What made us even sadder were the responses some of her friends were giving her. Like, "You go, girl!" "You be you!" "You do you!" These affirmations were the last thing this woman needed! They only served to deepen her imprisonment.

Instead of "me be me," the road to freedom begins with "save me from me." Thomas Merton once prayed, "God, save me from myself." A few years ago, Korn guitarist Brian Welch titled his autobiography Save Me From Myself. I have prayed this for myself, many times.

As I read Jesus, and the apostle Paul, and John the apostle, and Thousand Foot Crutch, I understand there's a war going on inside of me, and venting my rage against my victimizers only adds to my pain. There is something drastically wrong with the human condition, which only God can fix. 

I came to Jesus to be free from me. To escape the false self. To be saved from my sin and shame. You be you? Me be me? Been there, done that. 

The woman screaming on social media needed help. All her comforters could do was cheer her on. No one, it seemed, knew what was really going on.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

What To Do When You Are Angry With Someone

(Linda and I, in Brazil)

So, someone has upset you. What should you do? NOT THIS: Blast them on social media. That's anti-redemptive, and immature.

Instead...

First, read THIS.  

Now, you are ready to go to the person. Note: If this person is going to abuse you, then bring a church leader with you.

Pray. For yourself, and the person, that truth will be spoken in love. You are going to the person because you love them, and you want to make the situation right.

Speak for your own self, and not for others. Do not say things like, "Many others are upset with you too." If you know of someone else who is upset, direct them to the person, just as you are doing. If they refuse to do this, they have taken what John Bevere called "the bait of Satan." Have no part in this evil.

When you speak to the person, begin with love.  Begin your sentences with "I," rather than "you." Instead of saying "You upset me," own your feeling with words like "I feel upset _____________." Fill in the blank with a behavior; e.g., "I felt angry when you did not call me when you said you would." Or, "I felt angry when you called me irresponsible." "You"-language puts the other person on the defensive; "I"-language acknowledges your responsibility in the relationship. For how to do this, read this

Do not use negative descriptive adjectives when confronting the person in love (like these). Behind every adjective there is a judgment. You are not the judge of the other person, and do not want to come off that way to them. Instead, refer to behaviors. 

Listen to the person, for the sake of understanding. Your goal is understanding, more than it is agreement. Remember that you cannot begin to agree or disagree until you understand.

Be prepared to confess and forgive. You both may need to do this. For how to do this, read this, and this. And, see "The First Two Steps in Relationship Restoration." 

Follow this template, concerning speaking the truth in love. 

Have these attitudes, not only in your words, but in your countenance and behavior. 

Listen, understand, assert, love.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Pastors Enter Into The Grief of Others

 

                                                                  (Our grandson Levi.)

I became a youth pastor in 1971. I've been pastoring ever since - for fifty-one years.

A major part of a pastor's job description involves being with grieving people. We are caregivers and comfort bringers to suffering people.

A pastor enters into the grief of others. We have been trained to do this. Many pastors do this with excellence. 

Not a week goes by without one or more grief-stricken people contacting Linda and I for help. In this, we are not exceptional. Every pastor does this.

Here are some of the ways I have done this, over five decades. I present this to you as non-exceptional pastoral ministry. Every pastor who views their calling as a shepherd to others knows about this. Every shepherd-pastor has a list like mine. 

We do funerals. We meet and pray with people who have lost loved ones. 

We weep with those who weep.

We comfort parents who have lost children.

We comfort young people whose siblings overdosed and died.

We are with families and friends who have lost someone to suicide.

We respond in the middle of the night to crisis phone calls.

We meet with victims of murder.

We meet with murderers.

We visit people in prison.

We care for the suffering and dying.

We have been with people as they took their last breath.

We spend a portion of our time with the hospitalized.

We counsel adulterers and their survivors.

We rescue marriages and families.

We cry with the victimized.

We help the helpless.

We bring hope to the hopeless.

We have time to talk with hurting people.

We pray with people.

We befriend outcasts.

We agonize over the sufferings of others.

We counsel those grieving their moral failures.

Sometimes we are just there, with grieving people, saying little, or nothing.

We do none of this perfectly.

Every pastor I know does these things, and more.


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Worry


(Sunset, Monroe County)


Here are some thoughts about worry.

Of all the things I have worried about in my life, I estimate that less than 5% have come to pass. I have spent too much time worrying about things that came to nothing.

Worry, anxiety, fear… I’ve experienced them all. You have, too. What kind of person would not worry? One answer is: someone who had their brain removed. But then, of course, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy their worry-free life.

How is it possible to have the brains we have and move into greater freedom from worry? The answer Jesus gives is this: a person who trusts in God would not worry. “Trust” and “worry” do not go together. 

Jesus speaks about this in Matthew 6:25-34. Slow down and re-listen to these words.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. 
Are you not much more valuable than they? 
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 
And why do you worry about clothes? 
See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So... 

1. 
Worrying adds nothing to our lives. I’ve read studies that claim worrying actually subtracts from the days of one’s life. Worrying is non-productive. Worry, anxiety, and fear immobilize, and lead to non-action. Worrying makes worrisome situations worse. If today you are worried about something, rest assured that “worry” will not make the situation better and, in some cases, will make it worse because of the resultant non-activity.

2. Trusting in God will lead to basic needs being provided. We must distinguish between basic needs, and personal wants and desires. I have found myself, at times, worrying about something that I don’t even really need. This is a true waste of emotional time and energy!

3. Some run after material things as a cure for worry. But even acquisition can be worrisome. Richard Foster, in A Celebration of Discipline, argues that the more material things a person has, the more things they have to worry about. 

Here I am reminded of research I’ve done on materialistic cultures and levels of anxiety. Dr. David Augsburger wrote a brilliant study showing how some cultures, who have little materially, do not have a lexical entry for “anxiety,” because the condition is nonexistent. These cultures are tribal. In them, the community absorbs the worry. 

Thankfulness is an antidote to worry. I have found that when I am thankful for what I have, rather than needing to have more things to be thankful for, I am more at peace in myself.

“Worry” is the tip of an iceberg. Melt off the tip, and more surfaces. To get rid of the tip, get rid of the entire iceberg. 

Spiritually, this is about our heart. I am asking God to heal my heart that is still too consumed with the cares of this world. Only then can He use me to help others with their cares and concerns. The more self-obsessive I am, the less good I am to others.

Here are some things to get help and healing from worry.

- Keep a spiritual journal. Write down your fears and worries, and give them to God. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.”

- Re-read your journal periodically. Remembering how God has been with you in the past gives hope for the present.

- Saturate your heart, soul, and mind with God-things. Do not let the news surrounding the reporting of the pandemic occupy every room of your heart. I have found that when I make it my first priority to fill my heart and mind with God-things, I gain an eternal perspective on world-things. While the coronavirus is real, surely some of the fears accompanying it will not happen.

- Separate your real needs from your mere wants. Observe how our American materialistic culture works to create false needs within us that lead to false anxiety over a) either not having such things, or b) over having them and needing to care for them, protect them, store them, worship them, etc.

- Follow Jesus more intently and more intensely. Read Matthew 25 about what Jesus says in regard to helping the poor and needy. Take His words seriously and move towards others. As you begin doing this, you will find that your own cares and worries diminish.

- Make a list of blessings you are thankful for. Carry it with you, pull it out occasionally, and re-read it.

Trust God. Trust is not an emotion, but an action. Trust in God and worry cannot coexist in the same human heart.

***
SEE ALSO...

Everyone Has a Grand Narrative




After explaining my faith in Jesus as the Way, Truth, and Life, the young "progressive Christian" said, "Well, that's your narrative. My narrative is different." When they responded to me this way I smelled the spirit of postmodernism.

As a philosopher, I am uninterested in your narrative. I am interested in you, in understanding you. But the philosophical view is one that concerns Grand Narratives, or metanarratives, and whether or not one of them is true. And, the conviction that everyone has a Grand Narrative.

Postmodern theorists such as Jean Francois Lyotard reject the idea of Master Narratives, or Grand Narratives (metanarratives). Here's an explicative quote from Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge:

Modernity is "any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind [i.e., philosophy] making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth." 

Postmodernism, in turn, is ". . .incredulity toward metanarratives."

Philosopher Charles Taylor says, on the other hand, that "people always tend to understand themselves in terms of some big-scale narrative. The only remedy for a bad Master Narrative is a better Master Narrative." (And not, as postmodern philosophers think, scrapping them, as if one could.)

Everyone has a Grand Narrative, which is mostly pre-thematic (i.e., unreflected on). In this, everyone makes a truth claim.

***

See, e.g., Jurgen Habermas's devastating critique of postmodernism. (Explained here - scroll down to #9.) 

***

In their incredulity towards metanarratives, the postmodern thinker employs the metanarrative they dismiss in the critique of metanarratives. This results in self-contradiction. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains it this way:

"Habermas also criticizes Derrida for leveling the distinction between philosophy and literature in a textualism that brings logic and argumentative reason into the domain of rhetoric. In this way, he says, Derrida hopes to avoid the logical problem of self-reference in his critique of reason. However, as Habermas remarks: “Whoever transposes the radical critique of reason into the domain of rhetoric in order to blunt the paradox of self-referentiality, also dulls the sword of the critique of reason itself” (Habermas 1987 [1985], 210). 

In similar fashion, he criticizes Foucault for not subjecting his own genealogical method to genealogical unmasking, which would reveal Foucault's re-installation of a modern subject able to critically gaze at its own history. Thus, he says, “Foucault cannot adequately deal with the persistent problems that come up in connection with an interpretive approach to the object domain, a self-referential denial of universal validity claims, and a normative justification of critique” (Habermas 1987 [1985], 286)."

***


Monday, January 17, 2022

The Real Source of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Social Activism



Image result for john piippo payne
(With one of my Payne Theological Seminary classes)


(To understand this more deeply, I recommend two books by King scholar Lewis Baldwin: Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King Jr.; and Revives My Soul Again: The Spirituality of Martin Luther King Jr.)
In George Orwell's book 1984 the main character, Winston Smith, has the job of eliminating politically unwanted ideas, documents, and words, by throwing them down a "memory hole." To rewrite history is to forget history. To do this is "Orwellian."

Sadly, we will see Orwellian unthinking in today's celebration of Dr. King's birthday. The true sources of his social activism, which were spiritual, are largely forgotten.


As our nation pauses to honor Dr. King, we celebrate his great civil and political influence. But we will hear little of his own understanding of the source of that influence.
The fire burning deep in King’s soul was his relationship with God, fanned by his constant prayer life. Few scholars have attended to this, says King scholar Lewis Baldwin of Vanderbilt University, in his book Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King. Our secular media has thrown King's spiritual life down the Orwellian memory hole. 

I remember reading, for the first time, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I knew King was a Christian, but his spiritual life was never talked about in the media. We saw film and photos of King praying in the city streets, but were not told how much this meant to him. His “Letter” greatly moved me.

I saw that King was an intellectual, a brilliant writer, and most importantly, a fundamentally spiritual being. The social activism of Martin Luther King, Jr., was a function of a life grounded in God and prayer, which he defined as “conversing with God.”

Prayer was more than a theory or some religious thing for King. King had an actual praying life. He saw praying as necessary for changing his own life and the prevailing culture. King never separated moral responsibility from a deep personal spirituality and piety. Prayer, for King, was conversation with God.

Once King received a phone call at midnight from a racist who called him a “n-------,” threatened to kill him, and “blow up” his home This deeply disturbed him. He discovered that all the intellectual things he learned in the university and seminary could not help him overcome this. 

King turned to God in prayer, and had a face-to-face encounter with what was, in the tradition of his forebears, called a “Waymaker.” This God-encounter exposed his fears, insecurities, and vulnerablities. He found comfort as an “inner voice” spoke to him, reminding him that he was not alone, commanding him to stand up for righteousness, justice, and truth, and assuring him that “lo, I will be with you, even to the end of the world.”

It is important to understand King’s position on spiritual things if we want to grasp his societal accomplishments. King, who earned a PhD at Boston University, knew that intellectual accomplishments were not enough to transform self and society. God was needed, and prayer was able to “invoke the supernatural.” Baldwin writes that “King taught the people of Montgomery that the weapon of prayer was ultimately more powerful and effective than any gun or bomb.”

King told students that, if you don’t have a deep life of prayer, you have no business preaching to others. King saw himself as essentially involved in a spiritual movement, not simply a secular struggle for equal rights, social justice, and peace.

“King,” writes Baldwin, “was effective because his praying and preaching were effective. True leadership in his case made prayer and preaching indispensable.”
King knew, existentially, that real, true prayer involves “a profound surrender of the self to God, not prayer rooted in self-pride, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness.” That becomes the kind of relationship with God that can transform the fabric of reality.

The real source of King’s influence was his soul-receptivity to the powerful, transforming influence of God. 

Rev. John Piippo, PhD
Co-Pastor, Redeemer Fellowship Church
Monroe, MI
Adjunct Professor, Payne Theological Seminary, 2010-2017 (African Methodist Episcopal)
johnpiippo@msn.com 
Author

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Jesus's Core Message Is About the Kingdom of God


(I took this picture on the Temple Mount in Jerusale



In my Philosophy of Religion classes at MCCC I taught, at times, on the major comparative religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). When it comes to Christianity I asked students the question: "What was the main thing Jesus taught?" They give a variety of answers, but no one ever got this right. The correct answer is: Jesus' main message was about "the kingdom of God."

The parables of Jesus were all about this kingdom. Many parables begin with Jesus saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like..." (Note: "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven" mean the same thing. Observant Jews of the time would prefer "kingdom of heaven" so as not to say the sacred name of God [YHWH].) 

In the Lord's Prayer Jesus tells us to pray for God's kingdom to come on earth, as it is in heaven. 

Immediately after Jesus was baptized and tempted in the wilderness he began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matthew 4:17)

What, to Jesus and his hearers, did "kingdom of God" mean? It did not mean a place, or a location. The kingdom of God is not some place we are going to. Rather, it meant, and means today, the rule, or reign, of God.   Because Jesus said, “If you see me cast out demons by the finger of God then the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Matthew 12:28) By this Jesus does not mean a place. Further, Jesus said his kingdom “is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Few things have impacted me as deeply as coming to understand the kingdom of God. New Testament scholar Michael McClymond writes that this term “is meant to conjure up the dynamic notion of God powerfully ruling over his creation, over his people, and over the history of both… the kingdom of God means God ruling as king. Hence his action upon and his dynamic relationship to those ruled, rather than any delimited territory, is what is primary.” (McClymond, Familiar Stranger, 74)

N.T. Wright asks: What would it "look like if we really believed that the living God was king on earth as in heaven? That, after all, is the story all four gospels tell." (Wright, N. T., How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, K62) What would it look like in your life, in your church family, in your community if, in the midst of it all, the reign of God was established?

When I understood more about the kingdom of God I began to pray The Lord's Prayer in a different way. Now I pray it like this, because I believe this is how the early Jesus-followers understood it:

God, let your kingdom come...,
not only in the future,
but here
and now.
God, reign over my heart and mind
NOW.
As I am typing this sentence
As I take my next breath
As I walk into whatever this day has for me
Let things be here
in my home
in my church family
in my community
and beyond,
on this earth,
as things are in heaven.

Truly!

Saturday, January 15, 2022

LETTER 15 - A Disciple Is a Living Sacrifice

 


(This is excerpted from my recent devotional book 31 Letters to the Church on Discipleship.)

 Dear Interruptibles,  

Someone has said that the problem with a living sacrifice is that it can crawl off the altar. I haven't, at least, for long. In fifty-two years of following Jesus I have never entertained leaving Him. I don't think I have ever been tempted to stop following Jesus.  

The initial call of Jesus, to me, was: Leave everything and follow Me. As I read the Scriptures, that's what I thought The Call was all about. I still think like this. 

I was twenty-one years old, and just born again. Sitting in my Lutheran church on a Sunday morning, I was reading the bulletin. One announcement said: "Our church needs a youth leader. Please pray that God would give us someone to lead our youth."  

As I read this, I felt a burden. To pray. I did.  

Next Sunday came. The announcement was still there. I felt a burden. It felt weightier. I prayed for a youth leader for my church.  

During that week the burden grew. I felt concerned. My church needs a youth leader! Sunday came. I read the announcement in the bulletin. I remember thinking, "Oh no. You have to be kidding me!"

When I became an apprentice to Jesus, one of my leaders placed a book in my hands. It was The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I read this: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” At that time I was immersing myself in the four Gospels. I wanted to hear the voice of Jesus. Bonhoeffer sounded like Jesus to me.  

Unbelievably to me, I became the youth leader of Tabor Lutheran Church. I am eternally grateful to Jesus for seeing something in me that transcended my human abilities. I learned that such things can only be discovered and experienced if I die to myself.  

I am a living sacrifice, offering myself to the Lord.

I want you to do the same.

 Love,

 PJ

 

DECLARATIONS

 I am my Beloved's and he is mine.

 Every day I say to Jesus, "Have your way with me."

 I sacrifice my entire being on the altar of God.

 In being a living sacrifice I am on the road that leads to life.

 Here am I, Lord. Send me.

All to Jesus, I surrender. All to Him I freely give.


(From John Piippo, 31 Letters to the Church on Discipleship, pp. 45-46