Tuesday, May 30, 2023

When "Freedom" Goes Berserk (Freedom Is Not Anarchic)

(Free-range squirrel, on my back porch)
At Redeemer we love the word "freedom." I love this word! Jesus said, in John 8:32, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

The truth will set you free... from what? The answer is: from either oppressive rule, or no rule at all. Both are forms of bondage.

The latter form of bondage (no rule at all) is called "anarchy." A(n) - arche; literally, "no ruler." Think of nations where governments fall and, for a period of time, there is no rule. When you think "anarchy" think, e.g., of Somalia, or Syria. Who's in charge? Who is leading? When no one leads in a good and loving way, the people suffer. Anarchic situations are physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually brutal.

"Freedom" is essentially related to "rule" or structure. This is a mistake some Jesus-followers, especially young and immature ones, make. If they come from fundamentalist law-oriented families it is not uncommon to see them go berserk with new-found freedom. Or, to flirt with sin, as if they are "free" to do so, oblivious to the fact that sin is precisely the prison house they have been set free from. 

The pendulum swings from oppressive structure to equally oppressive non-structure. 

"I am free to do anything I want!" is the cry of the Christian "anarchist" who is seduced by the lie that freedom is the absence of structure. 

The truth is that freedom is always a function of structure, and there are structures that oppress and structures that liberate. And, there are plenty of religious structures that, in the name of Christ but not the truth of Christ, make people more miserable than when they were imprisoned in their sins. (Note: I am not talking about the kind of liberating anarchism found, e.g., in Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel.)

As a guitar player and instructor I know that any musician who wants to excel and be creative on their instrument must learn technique. Guitar techniques are massively rule-bound and structured. Every guitarist who is worth anything practices patterns and structures and disciplines themselves to do so.

There's no such thing as "structureless freedom." "Structureless freedom" is the logical equivalent of "square circle" or "married bachelor." To live anarchically in this sense is to use one's freedom to choose imprisonment. Any free choice that increases your bondage or addiction or the bondage and addiction of others is evil. Like, e.g., being "free" to indulge your sexual appetites outside of marriage. Put in Jesus' way, it is untruthful.

Choose your structure carefully and live within it. Use your freedom in Christ to dwell in the freedom-bringing structure of his kingdom. Use your freedom to love and build up others and to engage in the prison-breaking, redemptive activity of God. 

The term "Christian anarchist" is an oxymoron, since the true Christian anarchist does place himself or herself under a "rule" and within a structure, that rule and structure being the the Lordship of Christ. True Christian anarchy is not the absence of rule under the pretense of freedom, but the refusal to come under the rule of the kingdoms of this world as if, and with the hope, that our solution is yet another political one. 

As Jesus said in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” These words have proven especially redemptive to the many Jesus-followers who live in the "Somalias" of this world.

We all live under some rule or reign. 

The day I chose to live in Christ was my prison break, and I have no desire to use my freedom to go back.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Reading today...


Last week someone placed a gift-wrapped package in my church mailbox.

Containing a book. Whoever did this - thank you!

I began reading last week, and I'm going to spend time in it today.

When I read the reviews I thought, I'm going to like this.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Moral Argument for God's Existence: Some Resources

                                (Redeemer Church in Monroe)

The moral argument for God's existence is my favorite, among arguments for the existence of God. People have not stopped making moral judgments and pronouncements. But if these judgments are not grounded in the reality of a transcendent command-giver, and we are left with atheism, then they are mere subjective tastes.

To understand the moral argument, begin by reading "The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality," by William Lane Craig.

Here are posts I have written on the moral argument for God's existence, and on moral-ethical issues in general related to this argument...

William Lane Craig's Moral Argument for God's Existence

Remembering (Combating Spiritual Alzheimer's Disease)

Del & Linda

Linda's mother suffered from Alzheimer's Disease for many years. This horrible illness caused her to slowly lose her memory. One result of her memory loss was an increase of fear.

One afternoon Linda, her mother Martha, her father Del, and I were shopping in a mall. At one point Linda and Del left to shop together while I stayed with Martha. We sat for a minute and then she looked at me, eyes filled with panic, and asked, "Where's Del?!"

"He's shopping with Linda. He'll be right back," I responded.

This put Martha at ease. But only for a few minutes. Forgetting what I had just said, Martha looked at me again and asked, "Where's Del?"

"He's with Linda. He'll be right back."

This happened several times in an hour, with Martha forgetting, me reminding her, she calming down, then forgetting and filled with fear, asking "Where's Del?", and me reminding her again. Martha not only had forgotten what I said to her, she forgot a more basic truth, which was: in Del, she had a husband who would never, ever leave her or forsake her. He was always by her side, Alzheimer's or not.

There is a "spiritual Alzheimer's disease" which results in forgetting the many times God has rescued and delivered us, provided for us, and been with us. Such forgetting breeds fear. The more one forgets the deeds of God in one's own life, the more one becomes fearful in the present moment.

The antidote to this is: remembering.

"Remembering" is huge in the Old Testament. The post-Exodus experience of Israel is grounded in remembrance. The Jewish festivals are remember-events, such as Passover, when the head of the household sits with his family and asks, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" In response, the past is recounted, how God delivered their people out of bondage in Egypt. Remembering, which reminds them of God's faithfulness, brings fresh hope.

My spiritual journal functions as a written memory of the voice and deeds of God in my life. I take time every year to re-ponder my journals. In doing so, I remember what God has done for me, how he has delivered me from bondage, and how he answered many prayers. I re-read of past times when I was afraid, or worried, and then re-read how God came through, and my worry dissipated.

I do not, I will not, forget the deeds of the Lord in my life. 

The spiritual discipline of remembering brings renewed hope in the present, defeating the onset of spiritual Alzheimer's disease.

My books are:

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

Friday, May 26, 2023

Greg Boyd on Progressivist Diminishment of Scripture


                                                     (Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio)

I know Greg Boyd, a little bit. We've had him at our church, twice. Greg is an excellent scholar, and a great preacher. And, he is his own person. It would be a mistake to try and label him. For example, his belief in a real Satan immediately places him outside true progressivism. (See here.)

In a recent book, where Greg argues for the plenary inspiration of Scripture (more non-progressivism), he expresses concern over the progressivist diminishment of Scripture. PC diminishes the authority of the Bible. It undermines faith, especially the faith of young believers. Greg Boyd, in his recent book Inspired Imperfection, has a similar concern. 

He writes, 

“[Some are abandoning] the plenary inspiration of Scripture, which is precisely what I fear some progressive evangelicals are doing. I consider this a grave mistake. Among other things, denying Scripture’s plenary inspiration is inconsistent not only with the church tradition, but, as I will later argue, with the teachings of Jesus and some New Testament (NT) authors.

Not only this, but history demonstrates that when groups relinquish the church’s traditional view of Scripture, they tend eventually to float outside the parameters of historic orthodox Christianity.*

I consider the recent Emergent Church phenomenon to be a case in Point.”

This is tragic because, as Greg writes, 

“If we imagine the church as a ship on a tumultuous sea, the Bible has always served as the rudder that keeps her on course. In our postmodern, post-Christendom, and (some are claiming) post-truth world, the sea in the Western world is as tumultuous as it has ever been. Which means, the Western church arguably has never needed its rudder more than it does right now.”

(Boyd, Inspired Imperfection: How the Bible's Problems Enhance Its Divine Authority) 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Store Up Treasures in Heaven, Not on Earth (You Can't Do Both)

Image result for john piippo money
Leaf, in my backyard

This morning I read Matthew 6:19-21.

19“ Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


Jesus seems to be saying that you can't do both. You can't store up treasures on earth and simultaneously store up treasures in heaven. Like you can't travel forward and backward at the same time. Like you can't breathe in and breathe out at the same time. 

Richard Foster says "simplicity is freedom, duplicity is bondage." 

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote a book titled Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. And Jesus said the pure in heart are the ones who will see God.

You cannot simultaneously will two things. You cannot simultaneously will "earthly treasures stored up in the house" and "treasures stored up in heaven."

Richard E. Byrd, after months alone in the barren Arctic, recorded in his journal, “I am learning…that a man can live profoundly without masses of things.” (In Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 80)

You mean, like Jesus did?

"Because we lack a divine Center our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. “We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like." (Ib.)

Though your riches increase,

    do not set your heart on them.
Ps. 62:10

He who trusts in his riches will wither.
Proverbs 11:28

"Jesus declared war on the materialism of his day."

Matthew 6:19-21 is enough for my heart to take in this morning. I bookmarked it. Tomorrow morning I will read it again. My true heart is indicated by what I am storing up, and what I am doing with whatever time, resources, and abilities God has given me. 

That's what Jesus says to me today.

Some Marriage Resources



Wednesday, May 24, 2023

"Why Isn't Everyone Healed When We Pray for Them?"


Over my 50+ years as a pastor I have seen people get physically, emotionally, and mentally healed.

I have also prayed for people and not seen them healed.

This Sunday at Redeemer I will give my response to the question "Why Isn't Everyone Healed When We Pray for Them?"

I'll also have a resource list available for further reading.

And, I'll continue to pray for people who are sick. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Wisdom Is Beyond Information and Knowledge

Gull Lake, Michigan

In the biblical books of Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs, the pinnacle of humanity's search for meaning is wisdom. Not information. Not knowledge. Wisdom. 

Many use the Internet to access information. Beyond that, few matriculate to knowledge. Precious few beyond that graduate to wisdom.

"For all its resources, the digital humanities makes a rookie mistake: It confuses more information for more knowledge. DH [The digital humanities] doesn’t know why it thinks it knows what it does not know. And that is an odd place for a science to be." (Timothy Brennan, "The Digital-Humanities Bust," The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 17, 2017)

Brennan, a professor of cultural studies at the University of Minnesota, goes on to say that the Digital-Humanities promotes ""digitization, classification, description and metadata, organization, and navigation." An amazing list, which leaves out that contradictory and negating quality of what is normally called "thinking." It would be a mistake to see this banishment of the concept as the passive by-product of a technical constraint. It is the aim of the entire operation." (Emphasis mine.)

It leaves out....   thinking. Few are the thinkers; fewer yet are the wise. Information is not knowledge, and is further yet from wisdom. (See The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, by Tom Nichols.)

Wisdom is a deep well, requiring a lifetime spent in focus and discipline. Wisdom is a mile deep and an inch wide. Information is shallow, an inch deep and a mile wide. (See Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains.)

Information says "X is."

Knowledge says "This is how X is."

Wisdom says "This is why X is."

Information grows like mushrooms. Knowledge grows like an oak tree. Wisdom grows like a canyon. 

Ecclesiastes says,

There's nothing better than being wise,
Knowing how to interpret the meaning of life. 
Wisdom puts light in the eyes, 
And gives gentleness to words and manners.

Peterson, Eugene H.. The Message Remix 2.0: The Bible In contemporary Language (p. 941). 

Two of my books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Pastors Are Unnecessary in Three Ways


I am a pastor. I am thankful that God called me to this. It is instructive to understand what I am not called to; viz., I am not called to be a custodian of the prevailing culture.

Eugene Peterson calls pastors "countercultural servants of Jesus Christ." He writes: "We want to be free of the Egyptian slavery to the culture and free to serve our wilderness world in Jesus' name." (Peterson and Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Location 70)

Pastors, writes Peterson, are "unnecessary," in three ways.

1. "We are unnecessary to what the culture presumes is important: as paragons of goodness and niceness." (Ib.)

There's a man in my community who is a leader. He's not a follower of Jesus. Whenever he sees me he calls me "Reverend." I have asked him not to do this. "Just call me John," I say. He has a hard time complying with my request.

When he calls me this he reduces me to something kindly and benevolent. He puts me in a box. He doesn't understand that, while kindness and niceness can be good, I am called to subvert and overthrow his thoughtless secularism. He doesn't realize it, but I don't fit into his happy world. Or, he does realize it, sees me as a threat, and imprisons me as the benign Reverend. Or, he mindlessly accepts the label which insulates him from me. 

As a pastor my world is about the realities of life and death, freedom and bondage, meaningfulness and meaninglessness, love and hate, hope and despair. My calling is to reality, not some role culture assigns to me.

2. "We are... unnecessary to what we ourselves feel is essential: as the linchpin holding a congregation together." (Ib.)

When I assign pastors to pray I request that they leave their cell phones behind, because God wants to break them of the illusion of their indispensability. It is important for them to grasp the fact that none of us are indispensable. God doesn't need us. God loves us, and wants to use us for his kingdom's sake. But his redemptive activity does not rise or fall with us.

Peterson writes: "We have important work to do, but if we don't do it God can always find someone else - and probably not a pastor."

3. "We are unnecessary to what congregations insist that we must do and be: as the experts who help them stay ahead of the competition."

Peterson writes:

Congregations "want pastors who lead. They want pastors the way the Israelites wanted a king - to make hash of the Philistines. Congregations get their ideas of what makes a pastor from the culture, not from the Scriptures: they want a winner; they want their needs met; they want to be part of something zesty and glamorous...

With hardly an exception they don't want pastors at all - they want managers of their religious company. They want a pastor they can follow so they won't have to bother with following Jesus anymore." 

Two of my books are - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Friday, May 19, 2023

Leading the Presence-Driven Church - One Hour Presentation

 Here are the slides for the one-hour workshops I did today in Savoy, Illinois.

For greater content and explanation see my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church