Tuesday, May 31, 2022

My Favorite Devotional Book


On my birthday in 1985 Linda gave me A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants. I used it for two years. It became my favorite devotional book, of all time. I required it for students in some of my seminary classes. 

It's thematic, cross cultural, biblical, and meditative. If you want to go deep, this will take you there. It has proved to be a good guide for me in life. A month ago I took it off my bookshelf, and am doing it for another year.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Preaching on the Presence of God, June 5-6, in Edison, New Jersey


                                          (Green Lake (Wisconsin) Christian Conference Center)

I'll be preaching June 5-6 in Edison, New Jersey, at Stelton Baptist Church.

Here are the three messages I will be giving.
Sunday morning, June 5 - "The Presence-Driven Church"
Scripture - Exodus 33:7-21
Sunday evening, June 5 - "Accessing the Presence of God"
Scripture - John 15:1-17
Monday evening, June 6 - "The Power of the Presence of God"
Scripture - John 14:9-14

My leadership book is: Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Is There Meaning to Life?

God's Presence Supervenes Upon My Sadness

(Our backyard trail that leads to the river.)

Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

As I have stayed close to God I have experienced, often, a comfort that passes my limited understanding. This does not mean I have not mourned and grieved. These words of Jesus do not promise the elimination of sorrow. It does mean that God's presence supervened upon my sadness, like a face appearing out of a dot matrix drawing, like beauty as an emergent property of ashes.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. 
Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
The Message (Matt. 5:4)

I mourned when I lost my parents, and Linda's parents, and my baby son. I experienced comfort in the midst of losing them. If I didn't have God-with-me I might have returned to alcohol and drugs. 

New Testament scholar Craig Evans says Matthew 5:4 alludes to a passage like Isaiah 61:1-3. (Evans, Matthew, 105) Matthew 5:4 is rooted in this ancient promise.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

    to proclaim freedom for the captives

    and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - 
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

Things fall apart. Loss happens. God holds me together so I don't fall apart. His Spirit binds me up when I'm about to unravel. 

I write about how praying brings comfort in my book - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Praying at the Intersection of Heaven and Earth


                                                        (Praying, at Redeemer)

Today Linda and I are traveling to East Lansing, where I will be doing two 30-minute videos on prayer.

Then, a week and a half from today, we travel to New Jersey, where I will speak on the power of praying when in God's presence. 

Real praying happens in God's presence. "Praying" in the absence of God is not effective.

Philip Yancey writes:

"If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge." (Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Locations 248-251)

Real prayer happens where heaven and earth converge.

For example, Colossians 1:9 reads: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives...

Paul is praying for the Colossian Jesus-followers. This kind of praying, for others, has been called "intercessory prayer." To "intercede" means: to come between. The word "intersection" is helpful here.

One mile north of our church building is the intersection of Telegraph Road and M-50. If a person's car stalled in the middle of this intersection, would their car be on Telegraph Road, or on M-50? The answer would be: both. Because, in this intersection, the properties of Telegraph Road and the properties of M-50 are shared.

Something that illustrates this is set theory, in mathematics. This diagram shows that there are properties or attributes or elements of Set A that intersect with Set B. 

Now imagine that Set A equals the being of God; viz., all God's attributes, God's desires (God's will), and God's character. Imagine, further, that Set B equals the Colossian Jesus-followers (and, by extension, Jesus-followers today). Intercessory prayer is about the intersection of God and God's people. 

In Colossians 1:9, Paul is kneeling at the intersection of A and B, in the place where heaven intersects with earth, and asking God to bring heaven into the earthly existence of the people he is interceding for.

Pray today as an "intercessor," as one who kneels before God in the place where heaven intersects with earth.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Praying - Core Beliefs About God

(One of my praying places - our state park, on Lake Erie)

(This is from my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.) 

Since 1981 my extended praying day has been Tuesday. On Tuesday afternoons I go alone to a quiet place, away from distractions, and talk with God about what we are thinking and doing together. 

Solitary praying is one-on-one, God and I, for several hours. As I meet with God I carry certain core beliefs with me. They are the following: 

1. God exists. God is real. There is a God. God is. Without this, praying is an illusion. In the act of praying I am keeping company with the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, necessarily existent (everlasting; without beginning or end), personal agent who created and sustains all things. This is no small appointment I have! 

2. God is a personal being. God desires relationship. The Christian idea of God as a Trinity makes sense of God as essentially relational. God, in his being, is three relating Persons in One. God, as a Three-Personed Being, makes conceptual sense of the idea that God is love. Everlastingly, the Father has been loving the Son, the Son has been loving the Spirit, the Spirit has been loving the Father, and round and round in the Big Dance. To pray is to accept God’s invitation to the Big Dance. 

3. God made me. For what? For relationship with him. God desires relationship. He made me for such a partnership as this. When I pray I am living in the heart of God’s desire for me. 

4. God knows me. In praying God’s Spirit searches me out. God is aware of my deepest thoughts and inclinations, many of which are beyond me. God knows me better than I know myself. This would be devastating, were it not for the fact that… 

5. God loves me. God, in his essence, is love. Therefore, God cannot not-love. This is good news for me! As I put 4 and 5 together I’m singing “Amazing Grace” accompanied by tears of gratitude and joy. 

6. God desires me to love and know him in return. God has called me into a reciprocal relationship. Between God and me is a give-and-take. 

This is where praying comes in. To pray is to enter a loving-knowing relationship with God.

Jesus Was a Binary Thinker


(Flowers in our front yard)

At Redeemer we have been preaching through the five "discourses" of Jesus. As we near the end of a lot of study on these verses, I continue to be struck by the many binary statements of Jesus. 

Jesus was a binary thinker. Jesus used binary examples in his teachings. For example, on this coming Sunday (5/29/22), our focus is on "the wise and wicked servants" in Matthew 24:46-51. A follower of Jesus is either wise, or they are wicked. They are either prepared, or they are unprepared. That's binary logic. (See Aristotle, "law of excluded middle.")

Jesus's actual teachings were not "fluid," not on a continuum. One cannot read Jesus and think differently. As regards Jesus's self-understanding, you are either for him, or against him. You are either walking in the light, or walking in darkness. Hence, when it comes to allegiance to himself, there are not fifty shades of gray.

I am talking about how we are to read the teachings of Jesus. This has nothing to do with cultural acceptance. Non-binary thinking doesn't fit Jesus, or his culture. We know that because, e.g., the parables are lush gardens of binary thinking.  Progressive strivings to interpret Jesus as fluid and non-binary are anachronistic and anthropomorphic. Whoever Jesus was, he surely wasn't a 21st-century progressive, (To go deeper into the hermeneutical issues involved, a good place to start would be here.)

There's a whole lot of binary thinking going on in the world. Science is filled with it. Moral pronouncements exemplify it. (For example, Racism is wrong.) Computers are binary creations. (See here. And, I don't think I am here equivocating on the term 'binary'. It's "either/or" that I am thinking of.)

And then, there is logic. I taught logic at our local community college for eighteen years. Logic is still employed, often tacitly, even by postmoderns who reason that binary thinking is oppressive, and use logic to prove so.

Jesus was a logician. (See Dallas Willard, "Jesus the Logician." See J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason In the Life of the Soul.) I now present some thoughts about logic. 

I believe the following propositions (i.e. 'statements') are true:

1 - God exists.

2 - Jesus is God incarnate.

3 - The only way to God is through Jesus (Jesus is, e.g., "the door").

These beliefs marginalize many people. To marginalize someone or something means to draw a line and exclude them. Proposition 1 (P1) marginalizes atheists. P2 marginalizes atheists, Muslims, and most Jews. P3 marginalizes all non-Christians and even some Christians who deny the truth of P3.

Such is the nature of truth. Truth always marginalizes. 

"Truth," whatever it is (e.g., as a property of statements), is not all-inclusive. (See, e.g., philosopher Simon Blackburn's book Truth: A Guide.) Every statement draws a line. Every statement expresses a belief. Every belief excludes someone, or something. This is often good. 

Motor oil is not a soft drink. Motor oil is excluded, banned, from the soft drink aisle. A line has been drawn. This is good. 

Only children are allowed on the playground equipment. A sign is posted, saying: No adults on the playground equipment. A line is drawn. I am excluded.

Here is something that shocks most of my logic students, because they are so postmodern-relativistic: If a proposition (statement) is true, it is true for everyone. Truth, in logic, is binary. Either true or false. We may not know which.  That doesn't change the binary nature of a proposition. (See this, e.g., on truth-functional propositional logic.)

Consider the statement Detroit is the largest city in Michigan. This statement is either true or falseIf it is true, it's true for everyone, everywhere, cross-temporally. If someone thinks this statement is false (while it is true), then they are wrong

But aren't some things "true for me," but "false for you?" For example: For me, it is false that God exists. But this statement, if true, is true for everyone; viz., X thinks it is false that God exists. If that is true, then it's true for everyone. Note what is not being claimed here; viz., It is false that God exists. That's an entirely different proposition. And, if it is true, it is true for everyone. On the "subjectivist fallacy" see the text I use to teach logic - The Power of Critical Thinking, by Lewis Vaughn; Chapter 3.

All persons have a worldview, a belief system. One's beliefs can be articulated in a series of statements. The beliefs of other people marginalize me, because I think they are false. Consider these three beliefs (propositions).

4 - God does not exist.

5 - Jesus is not God incarnate.

6 - There are many ways to God.

P4 marginalizes all theists, such as myself. P5 marginalizes most Jesus-followers. P6 marginalizes Christian exclusivists such as myself. (See here Alvin Plantinga's essay "Pluralism: A Defense of Religious Exclusivism," Found in Louis Pojman's Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology.)

To say that P4, P5, and P6 "marginalize" me is to say they do not include me. They draw a line, and I stand in opposition to the beliefs. I am outside the margins of any worldview that believes P4, P5, and P6. 

P6 may sound inclusive, but it is not. I am not included in the inner circle of P6-ers, because I believe P6 to be false. If P6 is good news to some, it is not good news to me, and I am not included in the celebration. (I think P6 is untenable, for reasons that, e.g., Stephen Prothero gives in his book God Is Not One.)

Every proposition has a certain level of arrogance attached to it. Consider, e.g., the following:

7 - I am now writing this sentence.

P7 is, I believe, true. Or, a moment ago P7 was true, but now P7 is false. But still, P7's truth was only prob
able, and someone could reasonably believe it was false. Nonetheless P7's arrogance-level seems to me to be low. Which means that most would accept P7 as having been true a moment ago.

Now try this:

8 - One should never try to convert others to one's own way of thinking.

P8 seems to have a high arrogance-level. Because P8 is itself a way of thinking that is being forced on someone like me who thinks P8 to be inherently false. P8 functions for me in the same way that P3 functions for others.

Let me try one more.

9 - Christian theists like Piippo think they are right, and that people who disagree with them are wrong.

But of course. And so what? That is the nature of propositional thinking. 

A proposition is a sentence that is either true or false. In logic there's no "true for me" stuff (i.e., don't commit the "subjectivist fallacy"). Every proposition contains a level of epistemic arrogance that necessarily marginalizes those who dissent.

This is unavoidable. Every proposition marginalizes. Every belief that engages you disengages someone else. Every belief disinvites someone to the party. This is binary thinking.

Every statement draws a line. Don't freak out about this.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Scientists Reject Postmodernist Theory

                                                               (Comerica Park, Detroit)

When we were in East Lansing, as campus pastors at Michigan State University, our church was filled with scientists. Over the years I was privileged to do book studies and Bible studies with many of them. The dialogue we had deeply informed and enriched me.

One common thread was their reaction to the postmodern 

"Metaphysically, postmodernism is anti-realist, holding that it is impossible to speak meaningfully about an independently existing reality. Postmodernism substitutes instead a social-linguistic, constructionist account of reality. Epistemologically, having  rejected the notion of an independently existing reality, postmodernism denies that reason or any other method is a means of acquiring objective knowledge of that reality. Having substituted social-linguistic constructs for that reality, postmodernism emphasizes the subjectivity, conventionality, and incommensurability of those constructions." (Stephen Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, Kindle Location 292)

We cannot speak about a reality that exists independently of the human mind? No method can give us objective knowledge of that reality? (Especially, for postmodern theorists, the scientific method.) For a scientist this is absurd, since science is the study of objective reality (trees, viruses, planets, global warming, the physical brain, etc. etc.)

Theistic philosopher Dallas said:

"The early church did not get stuck in a Cartesian box. Aristotle thought there was a real world and a real mind that could know it. And that is what disappears. I have watched scientists listen to postmodernists and it is a constant display of thinly veiled disgust.” (Willard, Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teaching on Faith and Formation, Kindle Locations 230-232)

The idea that there is not an objective reality outside of us, and that it can be studied and known, is absurd (even while taking into account how our experience of that reality is socially constructed).

(For an interesting and brave attempt to rescue postmodern ideas, and apply them to a Christian worldview, see James K. A. Smith, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? See esp. Ch. 2, "Nothing Outside the Text? Derrida, Deconstruction, and Scripture.")

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Final Test of Compassionate Prayer


(Redeemer Monroe

My unChristlike deficiency is seen in my struggle to forgive my enemies. "Enemy" means not only those who want to see me defeated, but those I dislike, those I am irritated with, those I look down on. At the top of my personal prayer list is the transformation of my heart that would increase my capacity to not only forgive others who have wounded me, but to love them, from the heart, as well. 

This, as I see things, is the Big One. 

Henri Nouwen writes,

"The final test of compassionate prayer goes beyond prayers for fellow Christians, members of the community, friends, and relatives. Jesus says it most unambiguously, “I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44); and in the depth of his agony on the cross, he prays for those who are killing him, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Here the full significance of the discipline of prayer becomes visible. Prayer allows us to lead into the center of our hearts not only those who love us but also those who hate us. This is possible only when we are willing to make our enemies part of ourselves and thus convert them first of all in our own hearts."

See that last sentence? This is the love-of-Jesus part, which envisions, from our hearts, a flourishing, Christlike life, for those who are emotionally and physically killing us. As that happens, we will know the truth, and it will set us free.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Now Reading...


I have always been a reader. I remember my mother taking me and my brother Mike to the library, and  getting us more books to read. My parents bought Mike and I all the Hardy Boys books, which we devoured. As I got older I read science fiction books. And then there were sports magazines, especially Sport magazine.

My mother saw the value of reading. I became a reader.

Here's what I am now reading, as we enter another summer. Thankfully, Linda loves to read, too. We will find some beaches, set up our chairs, and read.

I'm now reading...

Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say, by Preston Sprinkle

The Case for Heaven: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for Life After Death, by Lee Strobel

How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus' Divine Nature - A Response to Bart Ehrman, by Michael Bird

Losing Our Dignity: How Secularized Medicine Is Undermining Fundamental Human Equality, by Charles Camosy

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl Trueman

Religious Experience and the Knowledge of God: The Evidential Force of Divine Encounters, by Harold Netland

Deconstruction, by David Gunkel

...with a cup of coffee...

What to Do When My Demands Are Not Met

(Flower, in my back yard)

Unsurprisingly, things in my life have not all gone the way I desired them to go. How am I to handle all these disappointments?

Thomas Merton, in his journals, wrote about life in the monastery of Gethsemane, in Kentucky. One theme was his struggle with the CEO of Gethsemane (the "Abbot"), Dom James. Dom James had problems, as Merton saw things. Merton knew he had to accept Dom James's leadership, and wrote:

"I do not criticize Dom James – his nature is what it is, and he must see things as he does. And he is the Abbot God has willed for me." (Merton, Thomas (2010-10-19). Learning To Love: Exploring Solitude and Freedom, The Journals of Thomas Merton, p. 27.)  

Then Merton had this insight: "I know I will never have things exactly as I wish they ought to be – and as I would take pride in them." (Ib.)

In that singular sentence, I see a free person. Merton was free of the terrible burden of always having to have things go his own way. (This is how Richard Foster puts it in Celebration of Discipline. This is how Jesus puts it, when he tells Peter, "One day someone will tie a belt around your waist and take you where you do not wish to go.")

Is that really a terrible burden? Wouldn't it be ideal to have everything go our own way? As interesting as these questions are, they are irrelevant, because everything in life will not go the way you want them to. More than that, everything in life should not go your way, unless you are a God who always knows the way the world and people need to go.

The person who needs things to be exactly as they wish them to be will be forever weighed down by the fact of a mighty non-happening. They will be everlastingly miserable, as demand after demand remains unmet. And, they will be angry.

But one who learns how to be, in and through whatever comes their way, is the free person, living transcendent to life's circumstances. (Also called: living by faith.)

Pray to be free of the need to have things always go as you demand them to go.

My books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Be Free of Trying to Change Other People


                                                   (Woman, selling sock, in Istanbul, Turkey)

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 come to the freeing conclusion that: we cannot change other people. Only God can. So I can let go of trying to do that.

One result of this insight is that Linda and I rarely, if ever, “advise” others. We only do it if requested. This is because unasked-for advice is usually received as criticism. For example, if I saw you today and said, “Did you know that Macys has some nice shirts on sale?”, you would think, “John doesn’t like my shirt.”

If I want your advice I’ll ask for it. I do ask people for advice, on a variety of things. If the advice is about something personal, I ask people who know me, love me, are themselves vulnerable and open, and trustworthy. When Linda gives me unsolicited advice (like, “Your pant zipper is down”) it always comes out of care for me.

In relationships, and in ministry, the desire to change other people is toxic. I like how Thomas Merton puts it. Merton writes: “Nothing is more suspicious, in a man who seems holy, than an impatient desire to reform other men. A serious obstacle to recollection is the mania for directing those you have not been asked to reform… Renounce this futile concern with other men’s affairs! 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, 255)

If God shows you another person’s fault it’s mostly so you can pray for them.

Before God, be concerned with your own transformation into Christlikeness. Pray "change my heart, O God." That prayer will keep you occupied all your life. To such a person, God will send people who desire change. That's called influence.

(The parent-child relationship is different. As is the teacher-student relationship. As are hierarchical-authority relationships, when acknowledged and willingly submitted to. Like, e.g., a sports coach who shows their athlete what they need to do to perform at a higher level.)

Friday, May 13, 2022

Physicalism as a Faith-Based Religion

                                                                         (Redeemer sanctuary)

The only kind of atheism worth entertaining logically implies physicalism. But physicalism brings problems to atheism. Physicist Richard Muller, in Now: The Physics of Time, writes:

"The denial of nonphysics, nonmath truths has been named physicalism by philosophers. Physicalism is faith based and has all the trappings of a religion itself."

This is not because of the difficulty of not having enough time to parse everything physically. It is because of the impossibility, in principle, of doing so. 

 For example, "there are other issues that are real but not in the realm of physics, questions such as, what does the color blue look like?" (Ib.)


"Gödel’s theorem inspires us to wonder about the completeness of physics—not of any particular theory, but of physics itself. Are certain aspects of reality, in addition to those affected by the uncertainty principle, beyond the reach of physics? Once you start thinking along these lines, you discover that many aspects of reality not only are untouched by current physics, but also appear to be untouchable by any future physics advances. One example is evident in the question of what something looks like."

(See also, perhaps, Thomas Nagel's "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?")

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Understanding Comes First


(Monroe County)

To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.
Proverbs 18:13

I wrote a letter to a young person whose marriage was struggling. There's a lot of fighting and yelling in this marriage. One of them keeps repeating past failures to the other,. The  other called me and asked, "Why do they have to keep reminding me of mistakes I've made in the past!"

Here's the note I sent to them. 

Dear _________:

Understand ______. 

Understanding always comes before evaluation. 

Linda and I spend little time evaluating each other,
and tons of time understanding one another.

To understand is to love; 
to be understood is to be loved and to feel loved.

Understand why ______ feels a need to repeat things to you. It's probably because they feel you are not listening, 
or because they cannot trust you. 

You do not need to defend yourself.
Work to understand why they feel the need to repeat things to you, 
and they will begin to feel understood, 
which is to feel loved.

Communicate with me as needed, and we'll talk on the phone again.



Making judgments without understanding is the cause of many relationship breakdowns. To judge without understanding is foolish. Here's the order of relational priority:

1. Understand.
2. Evaluate. (If at all.)

In knowledge and relationships, understanding comes first. And, while understanding another person takes time, it is time well spent.

(After sending that note I went looking for a book in my library - To Understand Each Other, by Paul Tournier. This is one of the books that shaped Linda and I in how we approach relationships and marriage. We used to give newly married couples a copy of it. For those who value depth and wisdom, Tournier's works are must reading.)

One of my books is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.