Saturday, July 30, 2022

Don't Read the Bible Through the Lens of Culture

(Weaverville, California)

Eugene Peterson writes, "North American religion is basically a consumer religion. Americans see God as a product that will help them to live well, or to live better." (Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, Kindle 19%)

So, what do pastors do? They acquiesce to the American way. They work hard (and largely fail) to develop a "product" that people will be attracted to and buy. Hence, they engage in public relations, image building, salesmanship, marketing techniques, and competition for buyers. And, acquiescence to culture (= the Consumer Church). 

The result is a "mindless cultural conformism [which]..., far from being radical and dynamic..., is a lethargic rubber stamp on worldly wisdom." (Ib.) This has led, as Chesterton saw way ahead of his time, to "the degrading slavery of being a child of this age." (Quoted in Ib.)

Peterson, writing in 1992, saw that "we are immersed in probably the most immature and mindless religion, ranging from infantile to adolescent, that any culture has ever witnessed." (Ib.) Actually, that describes 2022 in America.

At Redeemer, one way we combat the religious mindlessness is to preach, on Sunday mornings, through the biblical texts. (Sounds novel, right?) Several years ago, I and others preached through the four Gospels, verse by verse. This took us seven years. Since then we have preached through many of Paul's letters, the book of Revelation (took us a year to get through this), Hebrews (one year), and so on. Currently, we are preaching through Galatians. This is exhilarating, empowering, equipping, and encouraging. It for anyone who desires to interpret the vicissitudes of culture through the lens of The Enduring Word.

Why do this?

Because biblical illiteracy fuels religious mindlessness and cultural conformism.

Because the Bible is our distinctive, and our text. In the Bible a follower of Jesus gets situated in the Grand Narrative.

We can show our people how to speak to our culture through the biblical Narrative, rather than allow the culture to interpret and thereby trivialize the Narrative.

Peterson says that, when Christians come from Third world countries to the American church, "what they notice mostly is the greed, the silliness, the narcissism..., the conspicuous absence of the cross, the phobic avoidance of suffering, the puzzling indifference to community and relationships of intimacy" (Ib.)

Pastors - revolt against our culture's systematic trivializing of what we are called to do.

People - do not allow our culture shape you into its mold.

***
And go back to a praying life - my book can help you with this. Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.


Friday, July 29, 2022

Be a Discerning (Not "Deciding") Church

(Detroit Public Library)


Church leaders either:

1) Make decisions on their own, without consulting God; or

2) Meet with God to discern His good and perfect will.


When our church's leaders meet, we ask questions like these. 

"What is God saying to you, about you?"

"What is God saying to us, about us?"

"What is God doing in us?"

"What do you discern God is doing and saying?"

We are a discerning community, not a group of decision-makers. This is exciting, empowering, and non-striving. We are not trying to make things happen. 

Here are some things about discernment that are important to us.

Defining “discernment”
-      Discernment is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives.
Discernment is different than “decision making.”

The word in the Presence-Driven Church is” discern,” not “decide.”
This is not about “decision-making.”
God makes decisions and leads; you and I are to  discern what God has decided.
Biblical examples of discernment.
1 Kings 3:9-14 – Solomon asks God to give him a “discerning heart” to govern God’s people, and to tell the difference between right and wrong.
Psalm 119:125 – The psalmist prays: I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.
Proverbs 18:15 - The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.
Daniel 2:21 - God gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
Hosea 14:9 - Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the Lord are right;
    the righteous walk in them,
    but the rebellious stumble in them.
1 Cor. 2:14 - The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

How do I become a spiritually discerning person?
Cultivate intimacy with God. 

Discernment is a function of intimacy.

The rule is: The greater the intimacy with God, the more you have discernment.

“Discernment” is a fruit, an inevitable byproduct, of a presence-driven Life.

To discern the mind and heart of God: 
1. Meet regularly with God.
2. Engage with scripture.
3. Root yourself in a community that does the same.


If you don’t have time for this, you will not have spiritual discernment. Prayerless people dwell in the land of unfamiliarity.
There are three Greek words we translate as "discern." The first is in Rom. 12:1-2:


Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind.

What is fundamentally needed is mind-renewing transformation.
We must live in the rivers of constant spiritual formation and transformation, in order to discern what the will of God is. This is what the whole "church" thing is about.
The Greek word we translate as "discern" in Romans 12 is ἀνακρίνω,v  \{an-ak-ree'-no} - anakrino
1) examine or judge  1a) to investigate, examine, enquire into, scrutinise, sift, question  1a1) specifically in a forensic sense of a judge to hold an  investigation  1a2) to interrogate, examine the accused or witnesses  1b) to judge of, estimate, determine (the excellence or defects of  any person or thing 

A second Greek word is in 1 Cor. 12:10 - 


to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

Here the word is διάκρισις,n  \{dee-ak'-ree-sis} - diakrisis
1) a distinguishing, discerning, judging
A third word is in Phil. 1:9-11:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Here the Greek word is δοκιμάζω,v  \{dok-im-ad'-zo} - dokimazo
1) to test, examine, prove, scrutinise (to see whether a thing  is genuine or not), as metals  2) to recognise as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy 

How to become a community of discernment.
Teach your people how to abide in Christ.
If you are a pastor, you must give up control. It’s not about you. It’s about what God is saying and doing in your people.
          
A Discerning Community is a Movement, not an Institution.

We discern what the Spirit is saying to us, and then move with the Spirit. 

Hearing God: The Precondition of Humility


Bicyclists on North Custer in Monroe

Prayer is talking with God about what we (God and I) are doing together. Praying involves both speaking and listening. Over the years the balance of my prayer life has shifted to listening. The precondition for listening is humility.

A humble heart is a necessary condition for hearing God. Dallas Willard writes: Humility is a quality that opens the way for God to work because God resists the proud (1 Pet 5:5). (Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, p. 52) 

Psalm 29:5 says, of God: He guides the humble in what is right  and teaches them his way. From this it follows that God does not guide the proud, for a proud heart is unguidable.

Willard writes:

"God will gladly give humility to us if, trusting and waiting on him to act, we refrain from pretending we are what we know we are not, from presuming a favorable position for ourselves and from pushing or trying to override the will of others. (This is a fail-safe recipe for humility. Try it for one month. Money-back guarantee if it doesn’t work.)" (Ib., pp. 52-53)

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


BOOKS BY JOHN PIIPPO

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.

In.

With.

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.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Grief - Some Resources

(Sterling State Park - Lake Erie)

(I am re-posting this for some friends.)

Here are some posts I have written about grief and loss

Grieving the Loss of a Child






A Worldview Shapes How We Grieve



BOOKS

A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser

Lament for a Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff

A Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis

I'll Hold You in Heaven, by Jack Hayford




ON THE WEB

My friend Don Follis is a Vineyard pastor to pastors. His website is here



Some Marriage Resources

 



https://www.johnpiippo.com/2011/09/how-to-save-your-failing-marriage.html










Friday, July 22, 2022

Don't Worship If You Hate Someone

Image result for john piippo worship
(Glass block, with light behind it.)

I'm reading Matthew 5:22-24. I have read this many times. I've taught this to people, and preached on it. Yet these words of Jesus are hitting me like I've never seen this before. I've done this long enough to know this is God, saying, "John, I want you to listen to this. These words are for you."

Jesus is saying,

  • Do not murder. If you do, it will be bad for you.
  • Do not hold on to anger against a brother or sister. Don't cling to it. Don't go to bed at night with it inside you. If you do, you are murdering your brother and sister. God hates this.
  • Do not demean or insult a brother or sister. Never talk about a brother and sister behind their back unless it adds value to their character. Or if you are meeting with a peacemaker for the sake of restoring relationship. Bitter slander and gossip hurt the family of God.
  • Gossip and slander and demeaning language are curses upon one of Jesus' followers. Do this, and you teeter on the brink of hell.
  • Don't worship on Sunday morning if you haven't taken care of relationships. You are not worshiping if you have hatred towards a brother or sister. That's hypocrisy. Drop the worship-act and reconcile with your brother or sister.
  • Don't stay away from worship just because you have not done what Jesus wants. Do the right thing. When you have done this, come and worship.
Really? Here's Jesus, from The Passion Translation. Really, you can read any translation you want. It's all the same.


“You’re familiar with the commandment that the older generation was taught, ‘Do not murder or you will be judged.’ But I’m telling you, if you hold anger in your heart toward a fellow believer, you are subject to judgment. And whoever demeans and insults a fellow believer is answerable to the congregation. And whoever calls down curses upon a fellow believer is in danger of being sent to a fiery hell. “So then, if you are presenting a gift before the altar in the temple and suddenly you remember a quarrel you have with a fellow believer, leave your gift there in front of the altar and go at once to apologize with the one who is offended. Then, after you have reconciled, come to the altar and present your gift."