Sunday, February 27, 2022

Pastors: Teach A.S.L.O. to Your People


My role as a pastor is this:

1. I am to abide in Christ.
2. I am to saturate myself in Scripture.
3. I am to listen for the voice of God.
4. When God directs, I am to obey.

As I live these things my life will be fruit-bearing. This is a conditional statement. If I abide in Christ, then I will bear much lasting fruit. On the condition of my Christ-abiding, fruit-bearing shall result.

This is the strategy of Jesus. I am to pass this on to my people, who will be edified. Their lives will bear much fruit for God and his Kingdom.

Pastors: teach your people to:
  • ABIDE
  • SATURATE
  • LISTEN
  • OBEY

A.S.L.O.

Here are some of the implications. 
  • Personal "striving" will be gone. This is not about "working harder" for God. It is about the Spirit of God working in you, and in us.
  • Programmatic activity gets replaced by Presence-of-God reality. Here is where "church" starts to get exciting!
  • Personal transformation into Christikeness (Gal. 4:19) becomes ongoing. We grow into Christ, like a little boy or little girl grows into their parents' clothing.  
  • Live connected to God; show your people how to connect with God. This is the best you can give them. What you and your people need is God. You are dispensable. As you abide in Christ you will be broken of the illusion of your indispensability. This is a necessary prerequisite for God to be the Builder. God will not only help you get out of the way, you will end up thanking him for it.
  • Become the abiding pastor, the "unbusy" and "unnecessary pastor" (as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Pastor: A Memoir, and The Unnecessary Pastor).
  • When your church (= people who love and follow Jesus) deeply abides in Christ, they will be spoken to by Christ. This will be the end of all those meetings and committees and "brainstorming" get-togethers and the beginning of the days of fruit-bearing and redemptively storming the gates of hell.
  • This is "Church" as a Revolutionary Movement. Abide, Saturate, Listen (Discern), Follow. 

To Experience God’s Presence, Abide in Christ


(Pear tree in my neighbor's back yard.)

This is from my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

***
We have an old pear tree in our back yard. As I bite into one of these pears I tell Linda, “This is the fruit of the gods!” The pears grow on the branches. The branches are attached to the trunk of the tree. This connection allows the nutrients of the trunk to flow into the branches. To produce pears, the branch just needs to stay connected. It needs to remain, or abide, in the trunk of the tree. 

To be, in the present moment, attached to Jesus is to abide in him. The word can be translated “to remain,” or “to dwell.” 

To dwell is to truly be with someone. “Abide” is an experiential word, describing a lingering, slow-cooked, togetherness. 

The Greek word is menon. It has the sense of tarrying, hanging around, “to be kept continually.” Menon is a kairos word. It connotes, “Slow down, spend the day with me. Kick off your shoes. Here’s a cup of coffee. Let’s recline in the fireplace room, and be together.” 

Menon is a being-word, more than a doing-word. It is a presence word. Menon is active, alert, focused, and engaged. It has the thickness and intensity of a lover, with their beloved. To abide with someone is to full-being be with them, interact with them, and meet with them. It is to hang out together, with cell phones off and stowed away.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Living for More Than Our Satisfied Selves

Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio

Is anyone more more perceptive and lucid concerning American culture than Yale University's Miroslav Volf? In A Public Faith Volf writes of the pervasive sea of shallowness the typical American dwells in (including, I think, the typical American Christian). He's worth quoting in full, with no commentary. 

"We live in an age of great conflicts and petty hopes... [T]he idea of flourishing as a human being has shriveled to meaning no more than leading an experientially satisfying life. The sources of satisfaction may vary: power, possessions, love, religion, sex, food, drugs—whatever. What matters most is not the source of satisfaction but the experience of it—my satisfaction. Our satisfied self is our best hope. Not only is this petty, but a dark shadow of disappointment stubbornly follows our obsession with personal satisfaction." (Volf, A Public Faith, How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, p. 99)

This is spot-on, right? Think of churches where this manifestation of the American Dream forms and shapes how pastors and leaders "do church." Think of the pressure to satisfy people's petty hopes. Hear the clash of worldviews if the Gospel of the Kingdom is preached. 

The "dark shadow of disappointment" comes when, e.g., things like power, sex, and possessions fail to satisfy us, and off we go like animals hungering for more of the same.

Volf, who is a follower of Jesus, continues: "We are meant to live for something larger than our own satisfied selves. Petty hopes generate self-subverting, melancholy experiences." (Ib., 99-100)

***
In my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God I write about hearing and discerning the voice of God. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Who I Am in Christ

(On The Badger - Ludington to Manitowoc)

(I am reposting this for a friend.)

Print this out and carry it with you. 


WHO I AM IN CHRIST
I am accepted

I am God's child.
As a disciple, I am a friend of Jesus Christ.
I have been justified.
I am united with the Lord, and I am one with Him in spirit.
I have been bought with a price and I belong to God.
I am a member of Christ's body.
I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child.
I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins.
I am complete in Christ.
I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ.

I am secure...
I am free from condemnation.
I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances.
I am free from any condemnation brought against me and I cannot be separated from the love of God.
I have been established, anointed and sealed by God.
I am hidden with Christ in God.
I am confident that God will complete the good work He started in me.
I am a citizen of heaven.
I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind.
I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me.
I am significant...
I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life.
I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit.
I am God's temple.
I am a minister of reconciliation for God.
I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm.
I am God's workmanship.
I may approach God with freedom and confidence.
I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me

A Discipleship Resource for Pastors

 


Pastors - the month of March has 31 days. My devotional book on discipleship has 31 entries.

Why not encourage your church family to use my book as a discipleship focus for the month of March?

My book, 31 Letters to the Church on Discipleship, is only $2.99 for Kindle, and $4.99 for a softcover.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Those Who Have Been Forgiven Much, Worship Much


Image result for john piippo worship
(Worship at Redeemer)


This morning I read the story of the prostitute who anointed and kissed the feet of Jesus. It happened at the home of a Pharisee named Simon. It made me think of the worship at Redeemer


As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, 
she began to wet his feet with her tears. 
Then she wiped them with her hair, 
kissed them and poured perfume on them.


This troubles Simon. He chastises Jesus for allowing her to do this. Jesus responds, saying, "Simon, I have something to tell you."


“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. 
One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 
Neither of them had the money to pay him back, 
so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”


On Sunday mornings I look at our people, my friends, my sisters and brothers. Some are crying. Hands and hearts are open. Some are smiling and rejoicing. How beautiful this is! 

Why these responses? Because whoever has been forgiven much, worships much. But whoever has been forgiven little, worships little. True worship is in direct proportion to one's experience of forgiveness. Were Simon the Pharisee at Redeemer, he would be troubled by what he sees.

During worship I often think of how much I know I have been forgiven of. I also think of the unknown I have been forgiven of. To forgive is to have a debt cancelled. I don't have to pay any more. To forgive is to bring back into relationship. By the blood of Jesus, I find forgiveness. Atonement. Release. Forgiven, I am a captive set free. This moves me to tell God how much I love him, to say how thankful I am, and to worship him.

To worship.


προσκυνέω,v  \{pros-koo-neh'-o}
1) to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence  2) among the Orientals, esp. the Persians, to fall upon the knees and  touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound  reverence  3) in the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make  obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication  3a) used of homage shown to men and beings of superior rank  3a1) to the Jewish high priests  3a2) to God  3a3) to Christ  3a4) to heavenly beings  3a5) to demons

To kiss.

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

To realize this is the beginning of worship.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Five Problems with Top-Down Vision-Casting in Churches

Image result for john piippo green lake
(Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin)

At Redeemer Fellowship Church we have a team of Elders who function in non-task-oriented ways. As Elders our focus is twofold: discerning what God is saying to us, and loving and serving our church family. 

One thing we do not do is brainstorm about programs we could implement in our church. What a relief this is to me! I've been there, done that, and don't want to do it ever again.


"Some of my worst disasters in ministry have come from trying to implement a vision, only to find out that no one else was buying into it. They might have even agreed that it was a good idea. For me. But it wasn’t theirs. So they didn’t get behind it."

Top-down "vision-casting" strategy looks like this.


  • The pastor gets a vision for the church through prayer, Bible-reading or the latest church leadership conference
  • The pastor preaches about the vision
  • The leaders and congregation get behind the vision
  • The vision is supported, preached, and repeated regularly

  • Vaters says there are five problems with this.

    Problem 1 - It's more Old Testament than New Testament.

    In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit descends on the entire church. Peter than speaks for what the entire church experienced.

    "The church gets the vision from prayer-soaked time in God's Word."

    This is an example of what I call The Presence-Driven Church.

    Problem 2 - It relies on obscure and/or questionably interpreted Bible passages.

    How many times has Proverbs 29:18 been cited in defense of top-down vision-casting - Where there is no vision, the people perish. But the entire verse, in context, is really about keeping God's laws, not casting visions. It reads: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law is happy.

    Problem 3 - It puts all the weight on the pastor.

    In Acts 2 Peter did not shoulder the weight of the vision. He and the Eleven shared the vision, as Acts 2:14 says.

    Here is the heart of pastoral burnout: the carrying of a vision, alone, and striving to recruit people to have a heart for it.

    Problem 4 - It doesn't include the dreams and visions of church members.

    Vaters writes:

    "When I go to a church leadership conference, it’s not to find out what the leader’s vision is and how I can help them fulfill it. I go to get tools to help me fulfill the vision God has given me for my life and ministry. I think a lot of people would come to our churches if they could get that help from us."

    Problem 5 - It requires constant selling.

    Anyone who knows me knows I would be a failure as a salesperson. Thank God I don't have to do that as a pastor!

    Vaters writes:

    "The three most-taught principles of vision-casting are "repeat, repeat, repeat." I've been told constantly that if I don't remind people at a minimum of once a month about the vision, they'll forget it.

    That's a problem.

    Any vision that needs to be sold to me that constantly...   I don't know... maybe it's not God's vision for me."

    The reality is that, if a person has a vision from God burning inside of them, they couldn't stop thinking about it if they tried.

    The role of a pastor is to equip the people for works of ministry, not to purchase equipment for the people to sit in while the pastor works. Vaters writes, "Leaders don't ask people to support their vision. They ask, "How can I help you reach your vision?""


    Enter the small church. "Much of the emphasis on top-down vision-casting has been the result of our big church leadership obsession." It's hard to release a few thousand Christians into visionary missional activity that comes from God, to them. 

    Small churches could do this. Like the 120 worshipers who gathered on the Day of Pentecost. Vaters concludes:

    "A community of believers, worshiping, dreaming and working together as guided by the Holy Spirit speaking to and through everyone. Now that's a vision worth writing down and running with."

    Wednesday, February 16, 2022

    Forgiving Others - Three Stages

    (Chicago)

    What is forgiveness? Lewis Smedes, in his paradigm-changing book Forgive and Forget, stages the process of forgiveness this way.

    1) You surrender the right to get even with the person who wronged you.

    You will no longer engage in ways of making them pay for how they wounded you.

    You give whatever justice should be exacted over to God.

    You let it go.

    2) You reinterpret the person who wronged you in a larger format.

    You begin to see the person as God sees them (much like the forgiveness seen in "The Shack," where Mack sees people as God sees them).

    This helps us avoid creating a "caricature" of the person who wounded us. "In the act of forgiving, we get a new picture of a needy, weak, complicated, fallible human being like ourselves."

    We begin to see that we are "that kind of people" too, not in the details, but in the heart.

    As you begin to view the person who hurt you this way, forgiveness is taking root in you.

    Forgiveness will be securely planted in you when you experience stage three, as a matter of your heart.

    3) You develop a gradual desire for the welfare of the person who wounded you.

    At this stage you are like Jesus, who loved us even as we were his enemies and wounded him on the cross.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2022

    My Praying Time Today

     



    This afternoon I went to a place where I could focus, and prayed for two hours.

    I prayed for requests people sent me.

    I prayed for healing for friends and others who are sick.

    I prayed for dysfunctional marriages, families, and relationships.

    I slipped in and out of praying for my self. I sensed God healing me of some un-Jesuslike attitudes. I gave thanks for some things, one time lifting my hands up and praising God for what he is doing in me.

    I read Scripture (today, portions of Matthew 18).

    I also read a section of Flannery O'Connor's A Prayer Journal. O'Connor, along with Annie Dillard, might be the greatest writer I have ever read.

    "Freedom From Anxiety" Weekend at Redeemer - Feb. 19-20

     



    We live in a culture where anxiety levels are high. Yet Philippians 4:6-7 counsels us to "not be anxious about anything." How is this possible? In response to this, we are providing a weekend addressing overcoming of anxiety. 

     

    I am excited about Craig Miller (Masterpeace Counseling Center) coming to Redeemer on Sat-Sun, Feb. 19-20. 


    On Sat. morning Craig will lead a prayer workshop from 10 AM - Noon. Craig will equip people to pray for emotional and physical healing and deliverance for others. 

     

    On Sunday morning, Feb. 20, Craig will preach at Redeemer on "Freedom from Anxiety." 

     

    On Sunday evening we will have a time (6-8 PM) of worship and intercession. A Prayer Team will also be available. 

     

    CRAIG WILL HAVE A TIME OF PRAYING FOR KIDS who may struggle with anxiety on Sunday morning, 9:45-10:15 AM, in the Mother's Room. Parents are encouraged to be with their children as Craig prays for them. 

     

    PARENTS - You may also choose to bring your kids for prayer at the end of Sunday's worship service.  

     

    INVITE SOMEONE TO SUNDAY MORNING that may benefit from Craig's teaching and ministry. 

     

    I am looking forward to this coming weekend, which promises to be a great weekend of healing at Redeemer! 

     




    Stay Away from Church and You Will Leave Your Children Unprotected

     

                                                       (Our grandchildren Levi and Harper)


    Christian parents: If you stay away from church, and don't involve your kids in church, you'll create little nihilists. See psychoanalyst Erica Komisar's article in the Wall Street Journal - "Don't Believe in God? Lie to Your Children."

    Highlights are...

    • A main reason depression and anxiety are common among children and adolescents is: declining interest in religion. "This cultural shift already has proved disastrous for millions of vulnerable young people."

    • A 2018 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology examined how being raised in a family with religious or spiritual beliefs affects mental health. 

    • "The result? Children or teens who reported attending a religious service at least once per week scored higher on psychological well-being measurements and had lower risks of mental illness. Weekly attendance was associated with higher rates of volunteering, a sense of mission, forgiveness, and lower probabilities of drug use and early sexual initiation."

    • The belief in God—in a protective and guiding figure to rely on when times are tough—is one of the best kinds of support for kids in an increasingly pessimistic world. That’s only one reason, from a purely mental-health perspective, to pass down a faith tradition.

    • Parents - get your kids, and yourselves, active in a church. This greatly helps your kids deal with life's big questions, such as "What happens to a person when they die?" Komisar writes: The idea that you simply die and turn to dust may work for some adults, but it doesn’t help children. Belief in heaven helps them grapple with this tremendous and incomprehensible loss. In an age of broken families, distracted parents, school violence and nightmarish global-warming predictions, imagination plays a big part in children’s ability to cope."

    • "In an individualistic, narcissistic and lonely society, religion provides children a rare opportunity for natural community... The idea that hundreds of people can gather together and sing joyful prayers as a collective is a buffer against the emptiness of modern culture. It’s more necessary than ever in a world where teens can have hundreds of virtual friends and few real ones, where parents are often too distracted physically or emotionally to soothe their children’s distress."

    • "Today the U.S. is a competitive, scary and stressful place that idealizes perfectionism, materialism, selfishness and virtual rather than real human connection. Religion is the best bulwark against that kind of society. Spiritual belief and practice reinforce collective kindness, empathy, gratitude and real connection. Whether children choose to continue to practice as adults is something parents cannot control. But that spiritual or religious center will benefit them their entire lives."