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.

The Bible Gives Guidance, Purpose, and Meaning

Detroit Metro Airport

Does the Bible have authority in my life? Yes. The Bible is my Text. It provides the Metanarrative I look to for guidance in life, for greater purpose, and for the meaning of my existence. 

I begin every day reading from the Bible. I study it. I meditate on it and absorb it. Today I'm reading - again - from Proverbs, and the Gospel of Matthew.

Guidance. Purpose. Meaning.

Don't be shocked by this. As a philosopher, I've spent a lifetime studying guidance, purpose, and meaning. Everyone, including atheists, has a Narrative that addresses these three subjects. If asked, most atheists would not have a clue about this. (Those philosophy professors I studied under, and who were atheists, would have a clue about this.)

Likewise, most Jesus-followers will be unable to answer the question, "Why is the Bible authoritative for you?"

N.T. Wright's book on biblical authority, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, is helpful here. Wright also has an essay on biblical authority here, much of which is in the book.

Wright's work provides good reading for any Christian interested in the question, "Why should the Bible be considered authoritative as the Word of God?"
Wright, as well as that of scholars like Craig Keener and Ben Witherington, warns us how to avoid making "the Bible into something which basically it is not," and gives a perspective and a hermeneutic that is far more authentic to the Bible itself.


I like what Wright has to say about "story authority." Consider, e.g.:


"Story authority, as Jesus knew only too well, is the authority that really works. Throw a rule book at people’s head, or offer them a list of doctrines, and they can duck or avoid it, or simply disagree and go away. Tell them a story, though, and you invite them to come into a different world; you invite them to share a world-view or better still a ‘God-view’. That, actually, is what the parables are all about. They offer, as all genuine Christian story-telling the does, a world-view which, as someone comes into it and finds how compelling it is, quietly shatters the world-view that they were in already. Stories determine how people see themselves and how they see the world. Stories determine how they experience God, and the world, and themselves, and others. Great revolutionary movements have told stories about the past and present and future. They have invited people to see themselves in that light, and people’s lives have been changed. If that happens at a merely human level, how much more when it is God himself, the creator, breathing through his word."

The Koran, for example, is a set of commands. (Eide Alawan of the Islamic Center of America told me this. And, of course, you can see for yourself by reading the Koran.) While the Bible does contain commands, they are situated in what scholars call "salvation history." The commands are part of the story. The story is compelling, with the Jesus-event being the greatest story ever told.

How brilliant of God to give us a Story, and situate us within it. Within this Grand Metanarrative our lives find guidance, purpose, and meaning. "Meaning" is situatedness within a coherent context. In the Bible, I have found my place. This is the core of biblical authority.

***
My five books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God



Encounters With the Holy Spirit  (Co-edited with Janice Trigg)

Friday, May 27, 2022

The Meaning of 'Meaning'

 

                                                                          (Sunset, Monroe, Michigan - 5/26/22)

Does life have ultimate meaning? To answer this question we need to ask: what is the meaning of 'meaning'?

I define 'meaning' as: situatedness within a coherent context. The reason we didn't get the meaning of a joke is that, as one sometimes says, "You had to be there." To understand a joke one must share the context in which the joke is situated. To understand the meaning of a foreign word one must be situated within the particular linguistic context. And so on.

Meaning is contextual. If there were no context, there would be no meaning.

So, does your life, my life, have ultimate meaning? Only if it has a place within a coherent context, or a metanarrative.

If there is no Creator God, there is no coherent, cosmic context. If no context, no meaning, because 'meaning' is situatedness within a context. 

Jean-Paul Sartre understood this. He believed that, in a godless universe, life has no meaning or purpose beyond the goals that each person sets for themselves. In Being and Nothingness Sartre wrote: 

"Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth." 

Which is to say: without God human life has no ultimate, cosmic meaning. Without God, there is no "grander scheme of things."

Commenting on Sartre, philosopher Leslie Stevenson writes: 

"There is no ultimate meaning or purpose inherent in human life; in this sense life is 'absurd'. We are 'forlorn', 'abandoned' in the world to look after ourselves completely. Sartre insists that the only foundation for values is human freedom, and that there can be no external or objective justification for the values anyone chooses to adopt." (Seven Theories of Human Nature)

Sartre is correct. Atheists who attempt to give life meaning are only spinning absurdities out of their own isolated existences. Only if a God who created the universe exists can our lives have meaning.

***
For some discussion on the meaning of life, see, e.g....

The Meaning of Life: A Reader, E.D. Klemke and Steven Cahn, eds.

Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl

The Meaning of Meaning, I. A. Richards and C K.Ogden

The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction, Terry Eagelton


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.

***

Breaking the Chains of Shame - A Few Resources

 

                                                                            (Jerusalem)

Here are some resources on breaking the chains of shame."

Four excellent books.

For more on freedom from shame see Lewis Smedes's Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve. This is one of the best books I have ever read!

Check out Curt Thompson, The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves.  

Take every thought captive. 2 Cor. 10:5 - We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. For help on how to do this, see Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds.

The opposite of "shame" is "acceptable." See Philip Yancey's beautiful book What's So Amazing About Grace? 


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