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.





Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Importance of Remembering in Maintaining Hope





(Coffee with friends at our home.)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, 
for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23


In this difficult time of the virus and political chaos what is needed is hope.

Hope: the mood of expectation that comes from a promise that something good is going to happen.

When I hope, I expect. "Expectation" is the mood that characterizes hope. Hope is expectation, based on a promise that has been given. 


It seems that every day Linda and I meet someone who has lost hope. Loss of hope produces stagnancy and passivity. And depression. The loss of hope threatens life.


How important is hope? Lewis Smedes writes:


“There is nothing more important in this whole world than keeping hope alive in the human spirit. I am convinced that hope is so close to the core of all that makes us human that when we lose hope we lose something of our very selves. And in the process we lose all reason for striving for the better life we were meant to live, the better world that was meant to be. Let me put it as baldly as I can: there is nothing, repeat nothing, more critical for any one of us, young or old or anywhere in between, than the vitality of our hope.”  (Smedes, Keeping Hope Alive: For a Tomorrow We Cannot Control, p. 6)

Real hope leads to activity, because it is attached to a promise that fuels the sense of expectation. The hope-filled, expectant person prepares for the promised, coming event.


A husband and wife are said to be "expecting" when she is pregnant with their inborn child. The reality of this hope is seen in their active preparation for the promised one to arrive. They create a space in their home for the newborn to dwell. They buy clothes and toys. They think and dream and pray. Hope, grounded in a promise of something good, is joy-filled.

Hope is different than "wishing." "Wishing" is not attached to a promise, and hence is devoid of the sense of expectation. The wishing person is inactive. The person who wishes to win the gazillion-dollar lottery does not quit their job and sell their house. When no promise is given, passivity reigns.


How can I overcome hopelessness and begin to hope again? I remember.

"Remembering " plays a role in "hoping." My spiritual journal, which is a record of God's activity in my life, helps me to remember. My journal includes God's promises to me, and promises realized. I have many stories where things looked hopeless, and then life returned. When I re-read and re-meditate on my journals, I am filled with hope. I remember the deeds of the Lord in my life. I come to know God, in whom I have placed my trust, and makes good on his promises. I am then in a good spiritual place. It affects how I look at the unseen future. I see that "he who promised is faithful."

I am intentional about remembering. This includes carrying lists of God's blessings to me, and looking at them often. I have found that a hoping person...


...remembers the deeds of God in their life; 

...remembers God-promises given, and God-promises fulfilled; 

...makes God their trust today, and each day; 

...dwells on the promises of God in Scripture;

...listens for God's voice, and his promises;

...is expectant; 

...is active, since real hope always leads to present vitality.

I encourage a hopeless person to list, and thereby remember, the deeds of the Lord in their life. Write down ways God has been faithful to them. I have seen this result in a refocusing and re-membering of the person, as the members of their heart are put together again.


Another antidote for hopelessness is connectedness to the Jesus-community. Hopelessness isolates people; unattended-to isolation breeds hopelessness. Be intentional about being part of a small group. Be intentional about gathering with others on Sunday mornings. Many times I have come on a Sunday morning, holding on to some fear in my heart, only to find it lifted and removed as we meet with the Lord together.

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.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Any Fool Can Start a Quarrel

(The River Raisin)


I have been on a wisdom quest for fifty years. That doesn't mean I have arrived. But, I have pursued wisdom, passionately. 

This pursuit to gain wisdom began when I became a follower of Jesus. In the spring of 1970. I was, at the time, in college, majoring in Music Theory. Upon my conversion, I changed majors to another sure money-maker - Philosophy. And, I fell in love, with Linda, and with wisdom.

These two love affairs have not stopped. This morning I read from Proverbs,  chapter 18. I only get through two verses.

1 An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels.
2 Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.

This is truth.

Over the years of teaching philosophy at our Community College, I have had students who were true wisdom-seekers. And, I've had students who thought they were wise. Some of these wise ones loved to start arguments. 

A few of them trolled me on social media. I discovered that any troll can ask a question. I may let them troll me for a while, then, for a few of them, cut them off. They were masters of begging the question, princes of disconnected rabbit trails.

Any fool can start a quarrel. Just throw out a provocative statement, and behold he resultant carnage. 

Many fools are wise, in their own eyes. They judge, before they understand. The hard work of understanding the position of the other is too much for them. But it's part of what is required to gain wisdom.


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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Unilateral and Corporate Leadership

(In my home office, making lots of decisions.)

I met a man who told me he bought a house for his wife and children to live in. OK. Then he told me, "I bought it without her and the kids seeing it." Not OK.

Big mistake.

Unsurprisingly, this did not go over well. It was a pattern in this marriage, causing many problems.

Many leaders simply announce, to their employees, decisions they have made, without consulting the employees. That is top-down leadership, which breeds insecurity and resentment among the people.

When I desire a cup of coffee at Starbucks, I don't call Linda and ask her permission. I can make that decision unilaterally. As for our house, this is the only one we have ever bought. Linda picked it out. And suggested we both look at it. Together, we discerned we were to make an offer. We made this decision corporately.

Note the word "together." Every person must know what decisions they should make corporately, and what decisions they can make unilaterally. When in doubt, take the corporate route.

Unilateral leaders are either dictators or fools, or both. A leader must not go more than one step ahead of their people. If they get two steps ahead, they are a martyr. That's foolish.

Unilateral leaders fear authentic community. Any group of two has at least two different perspectives. For example, a wife and husband. Corporate leaders understand and honor this.

Unilateral leaders are narcissistic. [Pastors, see here for the data.) They demand uniformity. This never turns out well for the community. 

Corporate leaders aim higher, going after unity. When this happens in a  church all experience blessing. As we read in Psalm 133:1-3,

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.

***

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.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

"Relevant" Is Not a Kingdom Word




                                             (Worship at Redeemer)

T
he word for me is not "relevant."


rel·e·vant

ˈreləvənt/
adjective
  1. closely connected or appropriate to what is being done or considered.

    "what small companies need is relevant advice"

    synonyms:pertinent, applicable, apposite, material, apropos, to the point, germane; More
    • appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances; of contemporary interest.

      "critics may find themselves unable to stay relevant in a changing world"

If "relevant" means "connected," we are disconnected.

If "relevant" means "related," we are unrelated.

If "relevant" means "appropriate to the current circumstances," we are strangers.

If "relevant" means "linked," we are aliens.

"The Christian," writes Eugene Peterson, "is a witness to a new reality that is entirely counter to the culture. The Christian faith is a proclamation that God's kingdom has arrived in Jesus, a proclamation that puts the world at risk. What Jesus himself proclaimed and we bear witness to is the truth that the sin-soaked, self-centered world is doomed.
Pastors are in charge of keeping the distinction between the world's lies and the gospel's truth clear."
- In Marva J. Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Locations 64-66

"My kingdom," said Jesus, "is unplugged from this culture."

"My kingdom," said Jesus, "is from an alternate reality." (John 18:36)

In Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance,  Os Guinness writes that, in our uncritical pursuit of relevance, Christians have actually become irrelevant. By our determined efforts to redefine ourselves in ways that are more in line with the modern world than are faithful to Christ, we have lost not only our identity but our authority and significance. 

The Idol of Relevance turns on us and emasculates us. The Church becomes domesticated. We become one of Relevance's pets. Aslan may not be a tame lion, but we are.

Is that too strong? Watch the secular media see if the Church and its leaders appear as anything more than just another evil to be eradicated. It's as if Jesus said, I came not to be served, but to serve the American dream. (This is also called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.)

Peterson writes:

"Our place in society is, in some ways, unique: no one else occupies this exact niche that looks so inoffensive but is in fact so dangerous to the status quo. We are committed to keeping the proclamation alive and to looking after souls in a soul-denying, denying, soul-trivializing age. But it isn't easy. Powerful forces, both subtle and obvious, attempt either to domesticate pastors to serve the culture as it is or to seduce us into using our position to become powerful and important on the world's terms.: (Ib., Kindle Locations 67-70)