Saturday, January 28, 2023

We Attend Church Every Sunday

 


Linda and I, for 51 years, have gathered on Sunday mornings with our church family. 

Every Sunday.

Yes, we are pastors. But we don't attend church because we are pastors. We are pastors because we attend church. My calling to be a pastor emerged from my immersion in my church family. As did Linda's.

Whatever good there may be in our lives, it is hugely indebted to our involvement in our church families.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Free to Not Be Who I Am




Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
 But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which 
God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. 
And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
Philippians 3:13-15

Some people counsel others to "Just be who you are." I think that's bad counsel. But it is an alternative in a godless, secular culture.

When I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University in the 1980s I had many meetings with new students. I would begin the conversation by asking them, "Tell me, who are you?" 

When I was a college freshman I could not answer this question. I think back and remember how others viewed me. I was...

...drug user
...alcohol abuser
...failure
...party animal
...stupid

I didn't let others see my insides. Even if I wanted to reveal my heart, I was unable to because I never addressed the self-question, never asked, "Who am I..., really?"

Looking back I see myself as...

...insecure
...lonely
...lacking confidence
...unaware
...easily manipulated
...phony
...duplicitous
...lost

Outwardly, especially when I was drunk, I celebrated who I was. Inwardly, the party was over. I was mired in the Eriksonian "identity crisis," a prisoner caught between ego identity and role confusion. 

Looking back, should I have celebrated this? No way! Should I have "accepted who I was?" No, thank God.

Don't celebrate who you are. Instead, look at what you are meant to be. You need more change (as do I). 

If you are a Jesus-follower, celebrate Christ, not the "you" that you are now. You have been purposed to be like Christ. He is the paradigm of true humanity.

God wants to set you free from this world's current identity confusion. What you can be and be transformed into is what matters, not the current "you" that others, or you, think you are. This is no small matter. Your answer to this will influence everything you do in life. And, contrary to how our identity-celebrating culture embraces this, it is not easy. 

In the winter of 1970 I was on a tiny stage in DeKalb, Illinois, playing my guitar in a band in front of a small crowd. That's when my release from who I was began. The thought came to me, "I am screwed up." When I heard this, I didn't feel condemned. I felt truth. That's when the voices of friends who said they liked "me" and thought I was "fun" began to lose their influence.

Every rescue begins with repentance. A few days after this I looked away from my self, and began to look at Jesus. I was being set free, not to be who I was, but what I was always meant to be.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

As a Pastor, I Invite Questioning

 

                                                                        (Monroe, MI)

(Adapted from my book Deconstructing Progressive Christianity.)

One complaint progressive Christians have is that they were never allowed to question beliefs about God, and other biblical matters. One thing we see when progressives chat on social media is bitterness about their former churches, and how oppressive the pastors and leaders were. Sadly, some of that is true. 

For me, as a philosopher [PhD, Northwestern U., 1986], I invite questioning. Imagine 50+ years of meeting with people who  want to ask questions about Christian beliefs, such as the existence and nature of God. I never turn them down. 

Philosophy is the discipline that demands questioning. Of everything. Of the meta-issues (do I exist; metaethical matters; epistemological obstacles; how do words refer; etc.) 

We philosophers are trained to evaluate, and not to affirm, until the evaluation is sufficient. So, I question many things, including progressive Christianity. I am skeptical about the metanarrative progressive Christianity offers me. I read Richard Rohr and John Shelby Spong and Brian McLaren and Rachel Held Evans and Marcus Borg and you-name-them, and I question them. I question the postmodern claim that we cannot know objective truths, which would mean, we can’t know about God. (And which devalues science.) 

Progressive Christians who love questioning should rejoice that I am doing this! (p. 77)


Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Sin

 

                                                     (Redeemer, on a snowy morning.)

Whatever happened to "sin?" 

I am told some churches rarely, if ever, talk about sin. Why not? Because people will be turned off by it.

 Other churches talk about sin. I do. Of course! The entire biblical narrative, from Genesis to Revelation, will turn into one big smiley emoji if we eliminate sin from the story. The story will be lost in its entirety if sin is eliminated. Because then, there's no need for a Messiah, a Savior.

If you use the word “sin” in public some people will look at you like you are some kind of medieval religious crazy person. Like: "Jimmy sinned a few days ago." Say that and you'll get accused of being "judgmental."

 I find all this ignorant, and troubling.

 “Sin” is a word. Which REFERS to something real

 

·                      “Sin” is a word that refers to behaviors and actions that create alienation and isolation.

·                     “Sin” is a word that refers to choices and non-choices that cause emotions of anger and vengeance and sadness and bitterness and bring tears and loss and grief and cries for justice and so on and on and on…

·                     If sin wasn’t about something very real and very dangerous and very alienating, half the movies that are made would not be made, and many of this world's tweets would be meaningless.

·                     “Sin” is a big-time reality word. There are not a lot of things more real than the reality of “sin."

·                     The English word “sin” is just an ancient word that refers to a reality that is still with us. And within us, if anyone should care to self-examine.

·                     Everyone does it. Everyone has it. If you don't have it, then you can start throwing stones at the rest of us.

·                     "Sin" is one biblical concept that is easily empirically verifiable.

G. K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, wrote:

 Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin – a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. . . .

Sin is only meaningful if it has a reference point. The reality of sin evokes the question, "in reference to what?"

"Sin" falls short of something. Sin doesn't measure up. If there's no reference point, then moral outrage is absurd, and "sin" doesn't exist. Think about this.

Moral outrage is everywhere. Moral outrage is currently (but who cares) politically correct. Moral outrage makes no sense if sin (wrongdoing; evil; heinous acts; etc.) does not exist.

Everyone - me and you and you-know-who - has screwed up, and landed short of the Reference Point. (On atheism, there is no Reference Point. Philosopher James Spiegel states how difficult it is for the noetic framework of atheism to discuss evil. "The very notion of “evil” presupposes a standard for goodness which atheism cannot provide. Any notion of evil or, for that matter, how things ought to be, whether morally or in terms of natural events, must rely on some standard or ideal that transcends the physical world. Only some form of supernaturalism, such as theism, can supply this. So to the extent that atheists acknowledge the reality of evil, they depart from their own commitment to naturalism." (The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief)

We need to talk more about this, not less.

There always has been, and still is, a huge SIN PROBLEM in the world.

Churches should lead the way in this discussion.

And, BTW, "sin" and "death" were the enemies Jesus came to defeat. How foolish for churches not to let seekers in on this open secret.  


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Dr. John Piippo - How God Changes the Human Heart


I'm reposting this for my Spiritual Formation class.

Understanding and Overcoming Anger

(Monroe County sunset)

(I'm re-posting this, to keep it out there. Don't let anger simmer.)


Dealing with Anger in Relationships

In every good marriage, in every good friendship, in every church, and wherever there are people, feelings of anger happen. I once had a friend tell me, “I never get angry.” My thought was this: here is a person out of touch with what’s going on inside of him. Even God feels anger. Even Jesus felt anger.

When I feel angry, what can I do?  

1. Recognize your anger. 
“Anger” is the emotion a person feels when one of their expectations has not been met. For example, if I drive across town expecting every light to turn green when I approach, I am going to be an angry person. Because this expectation will not be met. Therefore...

2. Identify your unmet expectation. 
Fill in the blank: "I am angry because my expectation that ________ was not met."

3. Evaluate your unmet expectation. 
Is it either: a) godly, reasonable, good, fair; or 2) ungodly, unreasonable, bad, unfair. In my "driving" example above, my expectation was irrational.

4. Reject ungodly or irrational expectations. 
If, for example, you expect people to clearly understand every word that comes out of your mouth, you are now free to reject this as an irrational expectation. Or, if you have the expectation that other people should never make mistakes when it comes to you, I now free you from that ungodly, irrational expectation.

5. If the unmet expectation is godly/fair, then ask: Have I communicated this to the person I am angry with? If not, then communicate it. 
For example, my expectation that persons should take off their shoes before entering our living room may be both rational and of God. But if I have not communicated this to others, my anger at the unfulfilled expectation is still real. My expectation that people should know such a thing without being told is unfair.

6. If you have communicated it clearly to the person you are angry with, then communicate your anger this way: 
Say “I feel angry because my unmet expectation is __________________.

Communicate this in your own way of saying things. Begin your sentence with “I” rather than “You.” For example: “I feel angry…” rather than “You make me feel angry…” Doing it this way asserts without aggressing. For the person who hears this, it does not feel so attacking.

Get rid of irrational or ungodly expectations. As you get free of these things you’ll find yourself less angry.

Remember that from the Christian POV, “anger” is not sin. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin.” We are not told never to feel anger. There is a righteous anger, and that is not only appropriate but necessary. But when we feel the emotion of anger we are never to sin. In all relationships we are never to be harsh, demeaning, vindictive, or abusive. Remember that  in every close relationship there is anger. The anger-free relationship is a myth, and probably is a sign of unhealth when claimed.

Finally, Ephesians 4:26 says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Which means: deal with anger quickly, and in a loving and truthful way. The goal is always restoration of relationship and reconciliation.

I am thankful that only a few times in our 44 years of marriage have Linda I fallen asleep angry with each other. The reason for this is not that we’re some special, exceptionally compatible couple. We are this way because we were taught to do this by godly people who spoke into our lives. We were sufficiently warned about the cancerous bitterness that arises when anger is “swept under the carpet.” We don’t want satan to gain even a toehold in our hearts. We have asked God to help us with this, and He has!

If you have allowed the enemy entrance into your heart because, in your anger, you have sinned, then confess this to God.

Then, receive God’s forgiveness and give Him thanks. 1 John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

Acknowledge, before God, that you are a new creation in Christ.
Ask God to help you, and trust that He is now doing so. 

***
Face-to-Face Your Anger and Interpersonal Conflict (Not Facebook It)


Refuse using Facebook or texting or social media to  work out interpersonal conflict. For such things Face-to-Face is best.


Henri Nouwen writes:

"When you write a very angry letter to a friend who has hurt you deeply, don't send it! Let the letter sit on your table for a few days and read it over a number of times. Then ask yourself: "Will this letter bring life to me and my friend? Will it bring healing, will it bring a blessing?" You don't have to ignore the fact that you are deeply hurt. You don't have to hide from your friend that you feel offended. But you can respond in a way that makes healing and forgiveness possible and opens the door for new life. Rewrite the letter if you think it does not bring life, and send it with a prayer for your friend."

Think, and pray, before you text or speak.


***
Using Logic to Manage Anger in Relationships

I would share this with my MCCC Logic students. It's an example of using logic to counsel people, in this case, those experiencing conflict in relationships.

Note: there is a small but growing Philosophical Counseling movement. See here; and here




















Monday, January 23, 2023

Be Slow to Anger - Three Tools for Communicating When in Conflict



                                                 (Cancun sunrise)

We live in the Age of Unrighteous, Unfiltered Anger. Here are some anger resources Linda and I use to help people communicate when in conflict.

1. Care Enough to Confront

David Augsburger bases his book Caring Enough to Confront on Ephesians 4:15, which states: Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

How should we communicate with others, even when we are in conflict with them? Here we see two actions we are to take:


1. Speak truthfully


2. Speak lovingly


Both truth and love are needed. If we only speak truthfully we could hurt people. I could tell you the truth in an unloving way, the result of which could bring harm to you.


If we only speak lovingly we may never address the truth. This leaves issues undealt with. It feels warm and fuzzy for a while, but the bleeding has not been stopped.


Instead, says Paul, we are to speak the truth in love. The formula is: Truth + Love. That sounds like Jesus, right? Jesus always asserted the truth, and he always did so in love.


Practically, says Augsburger, it looks like this.

When Linda and I communicate these are the attitudes we embrace. We were blessed to learn these things from David Augsburger years ago when we were in a married couples group that met at David and Nancy's home. Those times were so important to us as a young married couple! We saw, lived-out before our eyes and ears, how to be loving and truthful even when you don’t like each other at the moment. Even when you feel angry.

Speak the truth in love to one another. That is the way out of what seem like irreconcilable differences.

Work at understanding one another. You will find that often, when understanding has been achieved, "the problem" is not there anymore. ("Understanding" causes a lot of dominos to fall.)


2. Evaluate Your Anger


 I once had a friend tell me, “I never get angry.” My thought was this: here is a person out of touch with what’s going on inside of him. Even God feels anger. Even Jesus felt anger. In every good marriage, in every good friendship, in every church and wherever there are people, feelings of anger happen.

When you feel angry, what can you do?  

1. Recognize your anger. “Anger” is the emotion a person feels when one of their expectations has not been met. For example, if I drive across town expecting every light to turn green when I approach, I am going to be an angry person. Because this expectation will not be met. Therefore...

2. Identify your unmet expectation. Fill in the blank: "I am angry because my expectation that ________ was not met."

3. Evaluate your unmet expectation. Is it either: a) godly, reasonable, good, fair; or 2) ungodly, unreasonable, bad, unfair. In my "driving" example above, my expectation was irrational.

4. Reject ungodly or irrational expectations. If, for example, you expect people to clearly understand every word that comes out of your mouth, you are now free to reject this as an irrational expectation. Or, if you have the expectation that other people should never make mistakes when it comes to you, I now free you from that ungodly, irrational expectation.

5. If the unmet expectation is godly/fair, then ask: Have I communicated this to the person I am angry with? If not, then communicate it. For example, my expectation that persons should take off their shoes before entering our living room may be both rational and of God. But if I have not communicated this to others, my anger at the unfulfilled expectation is still real. My expectation that people should know such a thing without being told is unfair.

6. If you have communicated it clearly to the person you are angry with, then communicate your anger this way: Say “I feel angry because my unmet expectation is __________________.


Begin your sentences with "I" rather than "You." Say, e.g., "I feel angry, rather than "You make me feel angry" (which is the language of a victim). Doing it this way asserts without aggressing. For the person who hears this, it does not feel attacking.

Get rid of irrational or ungodly expectations. As you do this, you'll find yourself less angry.

Remember that, from the Christian POV, “anger” is not sin. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin.” We are not told to never feel anger. There is a righteous anger that is not only appropriate but necessary. But when we feel the emotion of anger we are never to sin. We are never to be harsh, demeaning, vindictive, or abusive. Remember that  in every close relationship there is anger. The anger-free relationship is a myth, and probably is a sign of unhealth when claimed.

Finally, Ephesians 4:26 says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Which means: deal with anger quickly, and in a loving and truthful way. The goal is always restoration of relationship and reconciliation.

I am thankful that only it’s only been a few times in our almost forty-six years of marriage that have Linda I fallen asleep angry with each other. The reason for this is not that we’re some special, exceptionally compatible couple. We were taught to do this by godly people who spoke into our lives. We were warned about the cancerous bitterness that arises when anger is “swept under the carpet.” We don’t want satan to gain even a toehold in our hearts. We have asked God to help us with this, and he has!

If you have allowed the enemy entrance into your heart because, in your anger, you have sinned, confess this to God.

Then, receive God’s forgiveness and give him thanks. 1 John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

Acknowledge, before God, that you are a new creation in Christ.

Ask God to help you, and trust that He is now doing so. 

3. Seven Rules for a Good, Clean Fight
Before I married Linda one of my pastors gave me Charlie Shedd's book Letters to PhilipOn How to Treat a Woman. I read it. A few years later, I read it again. 

Shedd's little book gave me some relationship tools I have never forgotten. For example, here are his "7 Rules for a Good, Clean Fight." 

  1.  Before we begin we must both agree that the time is right. 
  2.  We will remember that our only battle aim is a deeper understanding of each other. 
  3. We will check our weapons often to be sure they're not deadly. 
  4. We will lower our voices instead of raising them.
  5. We will never quarrel in public nor reveal private matters.
  6. We will discuss an armistice whenever either of us calls "halt."
  7. When we have come to terms we will put it away until we both agree it needs more discussing.



Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Persecution of Ivan Provorov


 See Michael Brown's article HERE.

See the Wall Street Journal article HERE.


Humility as Constant Forgetfulness of Our Own Achievements

(Heart-shaped snowflake in Monroe)














In the seventh century there was a Jesus-follower named John Climacus, who wrote a book called The Ladder of Divine Ascent. His book was about spiritual "rungs" of a ladder that, by the Spirit, we climb or ascend, growing ever closer to God. He came to be known as "John of the Ladder."

John of the Ladder wrote things like:

"A horse when alone often imagines that it is galloping, but when it is with others it finds out how slow it is." (Step 25:21)

And: "In drawing water from a well sometimes, without noticing it, we bring up a frog with the water." (Step 26:58)

OK. But...

John of the Ladder also wrote this: "Humility is: constant forgetfulness of our own achievements." (In James Houston, The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God, 20)

In prayer we bring ourselves, minus our own "glory," to God. Our prayer-focus is: Him, and Him alone. We lose ourselves, we "deny ourselves," so as to attend fully to Him. We're "all ears and eyes" for God. When this kind of heart-purity happens, the real prayer life has begun.

Sick is the person who sleeps in their own trophy room. (John of Monroe)

We lay down our "crowns" before God's throne, since Christ alone wears the Crown.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Breaking Free from Institutional Measures of Success

(Ladybug, in my home office)


Dallas Willard's interview on measuring spiritual growth among Jesus-followers is prophetic and subversive (the two often go together!). Many churches, he says, measure the wrong things, "like attendance and giving, but we should be looking at more fundamental things like anger, contempt, honesty, and the degree to which people are under the thumb of their lusts."

Why don't churches measure spiritual effectiveness by these things? Because these qualities are "not worth bragging about." "We'd rather focus on institutional measures of success."

People in today's American churches are suffering, especially pastors and their families, because "much of North America and Europe has bought into a version of Christianity that does not include life in the kingdom of God as a disciple of Jesus Christ. They are trying to work a system that doesn't work. Without transformation within the church, pastors are the ones who get beat up. That is why there is a constant flood of them out of the pastorate. But they are not the only ones. New people are entering the church, but a lot are also leaving. Disappointed Christians fill the landscape because we've not taken discipleship seriously."

Churches, and Jesus-followers, must change their definition of "success." 

"They need to have a vision of success rooted in spiritual terms, determined by the vitality of a pastor's own spiritual life and his capacity to pass that on to others. When pastors don't have rich spiritual lives with Christ, they become victimized by other models of success—models conveyed to them by their training, by their experience in the church, or just by our culture. They begin to think their job is managing a set of ministry activities and success is about getting more people to engage those activities. Pastors, and those they lead, need to be set free from that belief."


Thursday, January 19, 2023

Real Followers of Jesus Are Peacemakers

                                                              (Redeemer sanctuary)

If you are in conflict with another brother or sister in Christ, this should not sit right with you. You should be troubled by this. If you are a follower of Jesus, you must do something about it.

You will not have peace with God if you are not working towards peace with others. The very peace Jesus promises to all who abide in him is not only for you. It is for the community of Jesus-followers you are in.

Henri Nouwen, in his beautiful book The Road to Peace, writes:

"In his farewell discourse Jesus said to his apostles, "Peace I leave to you, my peace I give to you; a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you" (John 14:27). When we want to make peace we first of all have to move away from the dwelling places of those who hate peace and enter into the house of him who offers us his peace. This entering into a new dwelling place is what prayer is all about." (9)

A peacemaker dwells, not in the house of fear and war, but in the house of peace. In Christ, there is peace. As I abide in Christ he gives me his peace, a peace that is different from this world's peace. I connect with him who is our peace. (Ephesians 2:14) How?

By praying. Praying is a main way of connecting to God. Have an actual praying life and receive the peace of God, as Jesus promised. "A peacemaker," writes Nouwen, "prays."

He continues: "Prayer is the beginning and the end, the source and the fruit, the core and the content, the basis and the goal for all peacemaking. I say this without apology, because it allows me to go straight to the heart of the matter, which is that peace is a divine gift, a gift we receive in prayer." (9, emphasis mine)

In some church communities the people do something called "passing the peace." They turn to people next to them, and say, "The peace of the Lord be with you." The peace of God is something for others. You have been freely given God's peace. So, freely give it away. Which means, make peace with others.

Jesus didn't give us the Beatitudes so we could posterize them. (Matthew 5) Real followers of Jesus live these things out. Division doesn't sit right with them. 

This is hard work. It is out of our comfort zones. Nearly everything Jesus calls us to do is out of our comfort zones. This is why peace-lovers are many, but peacemakers are few. 

If you follow Jesus, you will wage peace. You will then experience the blessing and favor of God, imparted like anointing oil, over you.

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.

Psalm 133:1-3