Thursday, July 28, 2022

Books for My Encounters Seminary Class


Here are books I referred to in my "Encounters with the Holy Spirit" class for Faith Bible Seminary.

Lee Strobel, The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural

Craig Keener, Miracles Today: The Supernatural Work of God in the Modern World

Craig Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts

Craig Keener, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today

Craig Keener, Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost.

Gordon Fee, God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul

Grant Mullen, Emotionally Free: A Prescription for Healing Body, Soul, and Spirit

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine

Charles Kraft, I Give You Authority: Practicing the Authority Jesus Gave Us

Charles Kraft, Defeating Dark Angels: Breaking Demonic Oppression in the Believer's Life

Gregory Ganssle, ed., God and Time: Four Views

Wang Yi, Faithful Disobedience: Writings on Church and State from a Chinese House Church Movement

Randy Clark, Baptized in the Spirit: God's Presence Resting Upon You With Power

Gary McGee (Ed.), Initial Evidence: Historical and Biblical Perspectives on the Pentecostal Doctrine of Spirit Baptism


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)

"In" and "With" as Keys to Living the Jesus-Life

(Monroe County Community College)


A key to living the Jesus Life is found in two little words - "in," and "with."

Paul, in his letters to the various Jesus-communities, uses the phrases "in Christ" and "with Christ," and their variations, over 200 times (e.g. "in him," Christ "in us," and so on).

"In" is a container metaphor. When I am "in" the room, I share in the room's environment. When "out" of the room, I do not experience what is happening in the room.

Every Jesus-follower is "in Christ." This means union with Christ. I am in Christ and Christ is in me. Just as the resources of a vine flow into its branches, so do Trinitarian resources flow into every branch who abides in Jesus. 

Consider "with Christ." 

  • Jesus-followers have died with Christ, 
  • have risen with Christ, 
  • and will appear in glory with Christ on his return. 
  • When Christ died sin was defeated; 
  • Therefore I, in Christ, am dead to the rule and reign of sin. 
  • Sin has, for Christ and therefore for me, lost its power. 
  • When Christ was raised death was defeated; 
  • therefore, because he lives, I also live and am alive in Christ. 
  • Where he moves I move; 
  • where he goes I go. 
  • I am a new creation, living out of a new ontological status. 
Sadly, the default, flesh-system of "religion," is to ignore this core Gospel reality, and instead preach the Moral Code and the utilization of human flesh-power to keep it (what Richard Foster has called "will worship"). Craig Keener says the best imitations of Christ are just “flesh.”" (Keener, here)

"In," and "with," tell us that living the Jesus life is not about trying harder. N.T. Wright writes:

One aspect of Christian maturity, and certainly one of the road signs on the road to Christian holiness, is that the mind must grasp the truth: ‘you died, and your life has been hidden with the king, in God!” Once the mind has grasped it, the heart and will start to come on board. And once that happens the way lies open to joyful Christian holiness. Don’t settle for short cuts.” (NTW, C for E, 176; emphasis mine)
It's not imitating Christ, but union with Christ that makes the difference. It's about Christ, living in me and doing his transforming work in me, and I in him, rather than striving to copy him by using will power. (Think of the guilt and shame this produces in the church.)
Wright says: 

"The possibility is staggering: that I, a creature, might have my life linked—actually, organically, eternally linked—to the Son of God himself. Like a freight car coupled with an engine, where Jesus goes, I go. What happens to him, happens to me. I follow him and share his life, his character, his suffering, his future, his inheritance, even his reign with the Father.
While this reality, known as the doctrine of "union with Christ," has received a lot of attention throughout Christian history, it is often ignored in the modern church. But it is incredibly good news for those of us who wrestle with the uncertainty and disappointment of life on earth. Because we are "in Christ," because his life is ours, our fundamental life story has already been written."

Orient your heart and mind to things above, to Christ. Set your hearts and minds on who you are, by faith and through grace, in Christ.



Christ in you, the hope of glory. The actuality is staggering.

For more, check out former Fuller Theological Seminary professor Lewis Smedes, Union with Christ: A Biblical View of the New Life in Christ.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Normal Churches Pray for the Sick, with Expectation

Image result for john piippo praying
(Praying for someone at Redeemer)

(I am re-posting this for my seminary students.)

If your loved one was sick, would you pray for them? If so, what would you pray? Perhaps, for them to get better?

At Redeemer we pray for sick people to get better. 

We view healing as comprehensive, and in this way very Hebraic. 

This comprehensiveness is seen in how Eugene Peterson translates Isaiah 53:3 in The Message:

 The fact is, it was our pains he carried —    
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.

"All the things wrong with us." The atoning sacrifice of Christ has covered all our bases. The Atonement covers sin, yes, and so much more (a lot of which is the logical outcome of our sin). 

This affects how "church" is supposed to happen. Since God cares for the whole person - body/soul/spirit - he gives the church spiritual gifts that edify the whole person, individually and corporately.

What should a church look like? Is there a model, a paradigm, for "church?" I believe there is. It is seen in the book of Acts, and the letters of Paul, the book of Hebrews, etc. If there has ever been a normal church, it is the early church. If a church measures itself against anything, it is the early church.

Much of the American Church seems far from this. It is beset with abnormalities. Many American churches feel like going to a tennis match, expecting to see racquets and fuzzy yellow balls and a court bisected by a net, but instead seeing people standing around reading essays about tennis. 

A Jesus-follower in the first century would go to church expecting prayers for the sick, demons being cast out, the spiritual gifts manifesting, and maybe even a dead person brought back to life. What they would see in many American churches today bears no resemblance to that. 

Why would such things normally be expected? Because...
  • Jesus did these kind of things
  • Jesus said his followers would do these kind of things
  • The Church was birthed in these things
  • These things were understood in relation to the Atonement, in which "all the wrong things with us" were borne, by Christ, on the cross.
If a Church does not experience miracles, signs, spiritual gifts, deliverance from demonic oppression, and wonders, then it is abnormal, in terms of the original template. Something is missing.

Theologian Roger Olson writes:

"Most contemporary American evangelical Christians only pay lip service to the supernatural whereas the Bible is saturated with it. To a very large extent we American evangelicals...   have absorbed the worldview of modernity by relegating the supernatural, miracles, scientifically unexplainable interventions of God, to the past (“Bible times”) and elsewhere (“the mission fields”)." ("Embarrased By the Spirit?")

Last Sunday we prayed for sick people to be well. I talked with a number of people who told me they had pain, and after praying for them the pain was gone. People were smiling, saying that chronic pain had been taken away. They were praising God for what only he can do!

I think this is good, don't you? This kind of thing should happen in church, right? How weird to be in a church where expectation is low, even nonexistent, even to be avoided, and there are no expectant, faith-filled prayers for sick people who are there. 

How bizarre if a church is embarrassed by doing this. What if, horror upon horror, we bring a friend to church and they see people praying for the sick, and are freaked out by it! Or, attracted by it?

Olson writes:

"We [in the American Church] pray for the sick—that God will comfort them and “be with them” in their misery. We pray that God will give their doctors skill as they treat them. But we avoid asking God to heal them. We avoid any mention of demons or demonic possession and strictly shun exorcism as primitive and superstitious—except when Jesus did it. We look down on churches that anoint the sick with oil and pray for their physical healing. We suspect they are “cultic” and probably encourage ill people not to seek medical treatment. We (perhaps rightly) make fun of evangelists who claim to have prayed for God to re-route hurricanes but never ourselves pray for God to save people from natural disasters. We have gradually adopted the idea that “Prayer doesn’t change things; it changes me” and, like Friedrich Schleiermacher, regard petitionary prayer as something for children."

I experience cognitive dissonance when 1) I read stories of the first century church in the Bible; and then 2) I am in churches where virtually nothing about the first-century church happens and, more than this, is dismissed as dangerous and "weird." Which is weird, to me.

Last weekend, during our worship experience, someone spoke in tongues, followed by an interpretation. As a young Jesus-follower, who had never read the New Testament, some people told me that things like speaking in tongues and prophesying and engaging demons were bizarre. This put me in a strange position, since the Bible I was reading said tongues and prophecy and healing were given to the church, by the Holy Spirit, for its edification. I concluded that the cessationists were wrong. I went one night, alone, into the sanctuary of the Lutheran church I was raised in, knelt at the altar, and prayed, "God, I want everything you have for me, including the spiritual gifts you have given to us."

Olson writes:

"My experience is that the richer and more educated we evangelicals... become the less likely we are to really believe in and expect miracles. We relegate the supernatural to the inner work of persons believing that God can change people's hearts, but we do not really believe God intervenes in the physical world. Yet the Bible is full of examples of God's interventions in the physical world, it commands us to pray for such, and evangelical (and Catholic) Christians in the Global South almost all believe in and pray for God's miraculous interventions - especially in healing the sick."

Many American Christians have given in - unconsciously - to a reductionist, anti-supernaturalist worldview. They say they live by biblical truths, while practically denying how those truths played out in the early church. Why? Not because of intellectual reasoning, but because they want their religion to be "respectable."

Are there abuses by Christian pastors on TV? Of course. But the following reasoning fails:

1) There are abuses by people who believe in the spiritual gifts.
2) Therefore, the spiritual gifts are to be avoided, or are even non-existent.

That is irrational. The baby is thrown out with the bathwater.

Next Sunday morning at Redeemer we'll pray for the sick. Underscore the word we. This is our "normal." The expectation level will be  high. 

The reality of God showing up in love and power feels biblical to me. It's beautiful. It's better than words alone. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power. (See here.)

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Every Text Is a Cautionary Tale

(Goldfinch approaching one of my backyard feeders)

Every biblical text is a cautionary tale.

Every statement is a cautionary tale.


Any text can be cherry-picked and politicized.

In a recent discussion on my views of healing and the Atonement, a responder was concerned that my perspective could slip into a prosperity gospel position. I assured them that I am not into the heretical prosperity gospel.

I am, however, interested in correctly interpreting Scripture, and even language, for that matter.

We must first ask, what is the text saying? We have to be able, as best we can, to get the text right, and not impose, e.g., a Western worldview on the text. (Thus, the hermeneutical question is not "What does the text mean to you?" 

Once we believe we get the text right - e.g., in my case, comprehensive healing is in the Atonement (1 Peter 2:24) - then we simply present it. We present the correctly (we hope) interpreted text without worry that our presentation could be misinterpreted. Because - of course our presentation could be misinterpreted! It is a guarantee that it will be misinterpreted.

This human reality cannot prevent us from putting forth our understanding. If we operated out of fear that our position could be misinterpreted, then we would present nothing.

Every text is a cautionary tale.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Three Podcasts I Listen To


                                                    (Moon over Walgreens parking lot, Monroe)

Here are three podcasts I like, and listen to.

Justin Brierley's Unbelievable?

Sean McDowell's Think Biblically.

Alisa Childers

Monday, July 18, 2022

"Grace" As the Concrete Manifestation of the Activity of God

                                                   (Sawyer House, Monroe, Michigan)

The theme of the Fall 2010 Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care is "Dallas Willard and Spiritual Formation." I bought it when it came out, and refer to if occasionally. 

I am grateful for Willard and his Kingdom-labors. He is a brilliant philosopher, an excellent writer and communicator, and passionate Jesus-follower. In the area of spiritual formation his contribution is huge.

In the Introduction Willard's definition of "grace" is given. "Grace is God acting in our lives to bring about what we do not deserve and cannot accomplish on our own." (126) That final phrase makes this, for me, compelling.

I know that "grace" has the core meaning of "gift." A gift is, precisely, something I have not earned and thereby do not deserve. But God's grace is also purpose-driven. The gift of grace is given so that God might work through me to accomplish Kingdom-things I could not have done by my own wisdom and strength. In this sense God's grace manifests itself. The spiritual gift of prophecy, e.g., is the divine enrichment of our speech and knowledge so as to share words that are not reducible or attributable to our own abilities.

To only emphasize grace as something done to me is to treat it passively. To add to this the idea that grace "accomplishes" God-things is to see it as dynamic and active. "Grace" is the concrete manifestation of the activity of God in the life of a submitted Jesus-follower.

The Work of the Holy Spirit, in God's People


                                                       (Cover painting by Nicole Griffith)

(I make reference to HSRM – Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries. Much of what we have learned about the Holy Spirit has come from Attending HSRM’s annual summer conference, and our association with HSRM pastors and leaders. The following is from my book [co-edited with Janice Trigg], Encounters With the Holy Spirit.)



The Holy Spirit takes us further and deeper into God’s kingdom realities. The Holy Spirit invites us to more growth in Christ. In The Chronicles of Narnia C. S. Lewis describes heaven as a place where our experience is “further up, further in.” The Holy Spirit prepares us for eternity by taking us further up and further into God’s beautiful kingdom, in our pre-heavenly existence. (8)

The Holy Spirit moves prophetically. When the Holy Spirit manifests among us it is not only for our present experience. It can be a preparation for something the Spirit will have for us in the future. In this way the Holy Spirit trains and equips us for ministry in the days ahead.

The Holy Spirit speaks through other believers to strengthen, comfort, and encourage us. That’s what, in the early church in the book of Acts, the variety of Spirit-manifestations were for. How good it is to be part of a Jesus-fellowship where this happens.

The Holy Spirit produces staying power. The presence of God’s Spirit equips us to host his presence every day.

The Holy Spirit comes with healing power. Most of what I know about praying for healing has been acquired through HSRM.

The Holy Spirit builds family. The Spirit creates meaningful, life-giving togetherness. This is why I call our summer events “more than a conference, it’s a family!”

The Holy Spirit desires to conference with the greater body of Christ, and calls us to meet together. For example, one of our summer conference speakers was the leader of the Roman Catholic Charismatic Renewal of Wisconsin.

The Holy Spirit is fully available to children. HSRM teaches the same material to kids who attend the conference, with age-appropriate presentations.

The Holy Spirit assures us that we are sons and daughters of God. In a world where people are struggling to find their identities, even resorting to identity-creation on social media, the Holy Spirit seals us with who we are, in Christ.

The Holy Spirit produces boldness in us.

And, as my HSRM colleague Dr. Clay Ford writes, the Holy Spirit…

… gives us life.

…illuminates our intellects.

…sanctifies our emotions.

…refines our character.

…instills godly values and reverence for God’s Word.

…motivates our wills and empowers our witness.

…moves our hearts.

…enables a relationship of love and trust with God.

…enables us to perceive the spiritual dimension of life and to navigate effectively in it.

…makes God’s presence real to us and inspires our worship of him.

…fills us with love and makes us a family.


John  Piippo and Janice Trigg, Encounters with the Holy Spirit (pp. 9-10). WestBow Press. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Welcome to the Age of Cheap Grace


                                                (Lake Michigan; Pentwater, Michigan)

In 1970 (yikes!) I became a follower of Jesus. I was twenty-one. (Now, you do the math.)

One of the first books recommended to me was Dietrich Bonhoeffer's monumental The Cost of Discipleship. I didn't grasp it all at the time. But I did understand Bonhoeffer's distinction between "costly grace" and "cheap grace." It reminded me of the apostle Paul, when he wrote, What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)

Eric Metaxas, in his biography of Bonhoeffer, argues that the Lutheran Church's drift into cheap grace was a factor in allowing Hitler to come to power. (See Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy; see also Tim Keller's Foreward.) 

Metaxas says that cheap grace means "going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone, so it doesn’t really matter much how you live." Anyone who believes that and self-refers as a follower of Jesus has drifted into heresy.

Tim Keller writes that, today, we live in an age of cheap grace. "Many Christians want to talk only about God’s love and acceptance. They don’t like talking about Jesus’ death on the cross to satisfy divine wrath and justice. Some even call it “divine child abuse.” Yet if they are not careful, they run the risk of falling into the belief in “cheap grace”—a non-costly love from a non-holy God who just loves and accepts us as we are. That will never change anyone’s life." (Foreward to Metaxas.)


Two good reads on the meaning of 'grace' are...

Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace?

Michael Brown, Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message

Galatians 1:1-10 - Some Quotes to Understand the Text


Here are some of the quotes I referred to in today's message on Galatians 1:1-10. As I prepare for these Galatians sermons, here are the main resources I am using to get the meaning of Galatians right. (HERE.)

Craig Keener - "Galatians addresses hearers who are already believers. Paul’s argument is not against Judaism but against a faction of Jewish believers in Christ… who insist that “Paul’s Gentile converts must accept the Jewish law” if they are to belong to God’s people. The gospel of grace in Christ is supplemented with the system of Moses. This is a gross perversion of the Gospel…   and a totally different message."

Scot McKnight says the heart of the Galatian problem is: "a gospel of grace at war with a gospel that minimizes Christ."

McKnight - "Legalism, according to Galatians, was a religious system that combined Christianity with Mosaism in a way that demanded total commitment to Israel’s law as the climax of one’s conversion to Christ. This “deeper commitment to the law,” according to Paul, was a subversion of the adequacy of Christ’s work and an abandonment of the Holy Spirit as God’s way of guiding Christian ethics. In other words, the legalism of the Judaizers is more than a problem: it has become a new message, a different gospel. It is this implication—that it is a different gospel—that forces Paul to action."

McKnight - "We must be on guard against the idea that every rule or regulation in Christian living is a necessary form of Galatian legalism. Legalism – for Paul - was wrong not because laws are somehow wrong, but because legalism supplanted Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. There are many commands and rules that are helpful; for Christian development." 

Dallas Willard - “Grace is not opposed to effort; it's opposed to earning. Effort is action; earning is attitude.”

Tim Keller - In [Galatians] chapter 5, Paul has laid out two errors, both of which oppose the gospel: losing freedom by seeking salvation through keeping rules (moralism); and abusing freedom by rejecting the idea of rules at all (hedonism)."

Tim Keller - o   In verse 7 [of ch. 1], Paul says that any teaching which adds keeping Mosaic ceremonial law to faith in Christ “perverts” the gospel. Literally, the word he chooses to use means “reverses." This is illuminating. If you add anything to Christ as a requirement for acceptance with God—if you start to say: To be saved I need the grace of Christ plus something else—you completely reverse the “order” of the gospel and make it null and void.

McKnight (again) - "Here we are at the heart of the Galatian problem: a gospel of grace at war with a gospel that minimizes Christ."

N. T. Wright - The true Gospel declares that God’s single, unique action in Jesus has dealt with sin and launched the new age, the new world, the new creation. The rival “gospel” of the newly arrived teachers isn’t about that good news at all. It isn’t a variation on the theme; it is a different theme altogether. It isn’t an announcement that the new age has begun. It is simply a message about how to survive in the old age. And Paul says that anyone who announces such a thing, pretending that it’s the same thing as the genuine message of Jesus, must be under a “ban.” They are the ones, he says, that you should avoid. 

Friday, July 15, 2022

Preaching Through Galatians - My Resources


At Redeemer we have begun, on Sunday mornings, preaching through the biblical book (letter) of Galatians.

In studying the text I draw on the following resources. I am immersed in the text, and in these study tools!

The Bible I use is: NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible.

The Greek Bible I use is found at:

The commentaries I am using are: 

Craig Keener, Galatians: A Commentary

 Scot McKnight, Galatians

Ben Witherington, Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Galatians

N. T. Wright, Galatians

Tim Keller, Galatians for You

Plus, Ladd's theology, various studies of the apostle Paul (to include what has been called the "new perspective" on Paul), etc.

My Favorite Conversion Song

My favorite conversion, repentance, salvation, rescue, come-to-Jesus song, is Bruce Cockburn's "All the Diamonds."

It never fails, when I listen to it, tears..., thanksgiving..., joy.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Differences Between American Christianity and Biblical Christianity

(Sea of Galilee, Israel)

(I'm re-posting this, to keep it in play.) 


From Joseph Mattera's "13 Contrasts Between American and Biblical Christianity." The differences are:

  1. American Christianity focuses on individual destiny. The Bible focuses on corporate vision and destiny. Correct. It's the tribe, the community, and less the individual. American churchianity is individuated. Note that the apostle Paul's use of the pronoun "you" is overwhelmingly plural.
  2. American Christianity focuses on individual prosperity. The Bible focuses on stewardship. "Much American preaching today focuses on "our rights in Christ" to be blessed. However, in Scripture the emphasis regarding finances has to do with being blessed by God in order to be a blessing by bringing God's covenant to the Earth (Read Deut. 8:18; 2 Cor. 9:10-11). Jesus promised material blessing only in the context of seeking first His Kingdom (Matt. 6:33)."
  3.  American Christianity focuses on self-fulfillment and happiness. The Bible focuses on glorifying God and serving humanity. In contrast to the Bible "much of the focus from the American pulpit has to do with individual fulfillment and satisfaction."
  4. American Christianity appeals to using faith to attain stability and comfort. The Bible encourages believers to risk life and limb to advance the Kingdom. Read Hebrews 11, THE premier biblical text on the meaning of "faith," the kind of faith that, without which, it is impossible to please God.
  5. American Christianity usually focuses on individual salvation. The Bible deals with individual and systemic redemption.
  6. The American apologetic focuses on human reason. The Bible's apologetic focuses on the power of God and experience. "If the foundation of your faith is human reason, then the first person that has more knowledge than you in science could talk you out of being a Christ-follower. Truly, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, not human reason (Prov. 9:10; 1 Cor. 1:17-23)." BTW - anyone who reads apologists like Bill Craig and J.P. Moreland (and even myself), and thinks our interest in rationally defending our faith is about the primacy of human reason over the God-encounter, has misunderstood us.
  7. American believers have a consumerist mentality regarding a home church. The biblical emphasis is being equipped for the ministry. See here, and here. Mattera notes: "Americans shop for a church today based on what meets their personal and family needs the best. It is almost like a supermarket mentality of one-stop shopping." The Consumer Church, as Eugene Peterson has said, is an Antichrist Church.
  8. American Christianity promotes a culture of entertainment. The Bible promotes the pursuit of God. See here.    
  9. American Christianity depends upon services within a building. The biblical model promotes a lifestyle of worship, community and Christ following. Mattera writes: "Most of the miracles in the book of Acts and the gospels took place outside a building in the context of people's homes and in the marketplace. In Acts 2 and 4, the churches met house-to-house, not just in the temple. The man at the gate was healed before he went into the temple (Acts 3), which caused an even greater revival to take place."
  10. American Christianity is about efficiency. The biblical model is about effectiveness. "Often, the American church is modeled more after the secular corporate model rather than the biblical model. The church is not an organization, but an organism that should be organized!"
  11. In American Christianity the pastor is elected. In the biblical model God calls the pastor. 
  12. In American Christianity the individual interprets the Bible. In the New Testament the hermeneutical community interprets the Bible.
  13. American Christianity trains its leaders in Bible colleges. Biblical Christianity nurtures leaders through personal mentoring. "Biblically, leaders were not sent outside of the context of a local church to be trained for the ministry. They were nurtured personally in the context of congregational life by church leaders acting as mentors (as the Apostle Paul did with Timothy; as Aquila and Priscilla did with Apollos in Acts 19; and as Barnabas did with John Mark in Acts 15)."
This is going to be a tough one. Most people won't want the biblical model. They won't recognize it. 

Pastors - if you transition from the American Church to the Biblical Church you will lose some people, and gain some disciples.

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)

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Repetitive Worship Shapes Our Hearts and Minds

When "The Lego Movie" came out, Linda and I watched it. The morning after I awoke humming, "Everything is AWESOME!!!" That little song repeats those words over and over... and over. The constant repetition worked its wonders on me.

That is the power of repetition.

Be careful of what you repeat over and over again, because it will get inside you, and become you. (In my college philosophy classes my teaching method is all about getting students to memorize via repetition the correct answers over and over and over again.)

I occasionally hear Westernized linear-thinking Christians mock the repetitive worship found in a Pentecostal church like mine. But the ancient Hebrews were tribal, and tribal worship is repetitive. Repetition is a powerful learning tool, helping God's truths descend from our Western minds into our Hebrew hearts.

N.T. Wright supports repetitive worship. He writes: 

"[S]ometimes, in some traditions at least, the things we sing in church are deliberately repetitive. We use them quite differently: as a way of meditation, of stopping on one point and mulling it over, of allowing something which is very deep and important to make more of an impact on us than if we just said or sung it once and passed on.
Quite different traditions find this helpful: the Taizé movement in France, for instance, uses some haunting brief songs or chants; but you find the same thing in many branches of the modern charismatic movement, where repetition is an essential part of worship.
True, some people find these tedious, and want to get back to old-fashioned hymns as quickly as possible. This may be partly a matter of personality. But it may also be that such people are unwilling to allow the truth of which the poem speaks to get quite so close to them.
Repetition can touch, deep down inside us, parts that other, ‘safer’ kinds of hymn cannot reach, or do not very often."
- N.T. Wright, The Early Christian Letters for Everyone, p. 139

Repetitive worship is not "mindless," but mind-shaping.

Repeat  the truths of God, and be transformed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Moving From Self-Hatred to Self-Forgiveness

(My backyard - a light at the end of the tree tunnel)

There are things in my past that I wish I would have done differently, words I wish I would have spoken, and words I wish I would not have said. I'm thinking of one of my past failures now. The good news is that I am not hating myself for it. 

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

I can never hear enough about forgiveness. I need it for myself. I need more wisdom in dispensing it to others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worthington cites empirical studies supporting these conclusions. Why, given the great benefits of self-forgiveness, would anyone choose to wallow in self-condemnation? 
Why is forgiving ourselves so hard? 

Worthington says there are two kinds of self-forgiveness: decisional, and emotional. 

In the first you no longer seek retaliation against yourself. You choose to not punish yourself for past failings. Instead, you choose to value yourself. 

In emotional self-forgiveness you replace negative, unforgiving emotions with positive emotions toward yourself. "It is emotional self-forgiveness that cools the heat of anger in your heart; it’s what Corrie ten Boom referred to as “the temperature of the heart.” The emotions we use to replace negative, unforgiving emotions are empathy, sympathy, compassion, and love for ourselves." (Worthington, p. 52) 

Why are these things so hard to do?

Worthington cites studies showing that forgiving yourself is different from forgiving others. It is harder. He writes:

"When you attempt to forgive someone else for an offense, you are adopting the viewpoint of the forgiver. The wrongdoer, of course, is someone other than yourself. However, when you try to forgive yourself, you have to operate from two points of view— both forgiver and wrongdoer. Holding contrasting points of view at the same time is a strain. It is hard to bounce back and forth from one perspective to the other." (Ib., p. 54)

In forgiving someone else we are not with them (for the most part) 24/7. But we are with our own selves and thoughts all the time. We can't get away from ourselves. This can make forgiving ourselves harder than forgiving others.

Worthington says self-forgiveness is harder because we have "insider information"; i.e., we know who we really are. "The fact is, we know too much about ourselves. We know that we are capable of repeating the same wrong even when we know how hurtful it is. We also know that, as much as we profess love for God, we are like Paul who wrote: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7: 15). That is, we know the weakness of our will to do the right thing." (Ib., 55)

Self-forgiveness is different and in some ways harder than other-forgiveness because:

1. We live with ourselves 24/7. That is, we live constantly with the one who has hurt us, which is us.

2. We have insider information about our own self that we cannot have when it comes to others.

How, then, can we forgive ourselves? Worthington gives Six Steps to Self-forgiveness. They are: 

STEP 1 - Receive God's Forgiveness

  • Go to God for understanding (the task is too big to handle alone)
  • Go to God with regret, remorse, and repentance

STEP 2 - Repair Relationships

  • Take responsibility (you are not the model citizen you'd like to be)
  • Confess to any you have hurt (admitting you're in the wrong goes far in turning things around)
  • Make amends through responsible compassion (thinking of others can help you make things right)

STEP 3 - Rethink Ruminations

  • It's not necessarily helpful to wrestle with the Almighty
  • Adjust perfectionistic standards and unrealistic expectations (Worthington shows how to do this. Getting real about yourself moves the process forward.)
STEP 4 - REACH Emotional Self-forgiveness

  • Worthington shows how to move from saying it to feeling it, using the acronym REACH:

1. Recall the hurt. 
2. Empathize with yourself by considering the reasons that you disappointed yourself. 
3. Give yourself the same Altruistic gift you would give other people— understanding and forgiving. 
4. Commit to the emotional self-forgiveness that you experience in order to … 
5. Hold on to self-forgiveness if you ever doubt that you have forgiven yourself. (207)

STEP 5 - Rebuild Self-acceptance

  • Live in the truth that you are deeply flawed and also valuable beyond belief
STEP 6 - Resolve to Live Virtuously
  • Live virtuously, but give yourself room to fail
And through it all, remember Galatians 5:1 - "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."