Friday, June 30, 2023

Harshness Polarizes; Gentleness Disarms

                                                                               (Grand Haven, MI)

I begin the day reading from Proverbs 15.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, 
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:1

Harshness adds nothing to a disagreement.

Harshness subtracts from the truth.

Harshness polarizes; gentleness disarms.

Harshness depletes; gentleness adds.

Gentleness subtracts nothing from a disagreement.

Gentleness provides the atmosphere in which truth can shine.

Avoid harshness. Exude gentleness.

I read this verse from my NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Below it is a link to the following list.

Character Traits in Proverbs 

Traits to be avoided 

  • anger 29: 22 
  • antisocial behavior 18: 1 
  • beauty without discretion 11: 22 
  • blaming God 19: 3 
  • dishonesty 24: 28 
  • greed 28: 25 
  • hatred 29: 27 
  • hot temper 19: 19; 29: 22 
  • immorality 6: 20– 35 
  • inappropriate desire 27: 7 
  • injustice 22: 16 
  • jealousy 27: 4 
  • lack of mercy 21: 13 
  • laziness 6: 6– 11; 18: 9; 19: 15; 20: 4; 24: 30– 34; 26: 13– 15 
  • maliciousness 6: 27 
  • meddling 26: 17; 30: 10 
  • pride 15: 5; 16: 18; 21: 4, 24; 29: 23; 30: 13 
  • quarrelsomeness 26: 21
  • self-conceit 26: 12, 16 
  • self-deceit 28: 11 
  • self-glory 25: 27 
  • self-righteousness 30: 12 
  • social disruption 19: 10 
  • stubbornness 29: 1 
  • unfaithfulness 25: 19 
  • unneighborliness 3: 27– 30 
  • vengeance 24: 28– 29 
  • wickedness 21: 10 
  • wicked scheming 16: 30 

Traits to be promoted 

  • avoidance of strife 20: 3 
  • compassion for animals 12: 10 
  • contentment 13: 25; 14: 30; 15: 27 
  • diligence 6: 6– 13; 12: 24, 27; 13: 4 
  • faithful love 20: 6 
  • faithfulness 3: 5– 6; 5: 15– 17; 25: 13; 28: 20 
  • generosity 21: 26; 22: 9 
  • honesty 16: 11; 24: 26 
  • humility 11: 2; 16: 19; 25: 6– 7; 29: 23 
  • integrity 11: 3; 25: 26; 28: 18 
  • kindness to others 11: 16– 17
  • kindness to enemies 25: 21– 22 
  • leadership 30: 19– 31 
  • loyalty 19: 22 
  • nobility 12: 4; 31: 10, 29 
  • patience 15: 18; 16: 32 
  • peacefulness 16: 7 
  • praiseworthiness 27: 21 
  • righteousness 4: 26– 27; 11: 5– 6, 30; 12: 28; 13: 6; 29: 2 
  • self-control 17: 27; 25: 28; 29: 11 
  • strength and honor 20: 29 
  • strength in adversity 24: 10 
  • teachableness 15: 31 
  • truthfulness 12: 19, 22; 23: 23
(From the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible)

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Nine Things to Consider Before Marriage

(Cancun sunrise - 2/28/19)

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

Linda and I took last week to celebrate 49 years of marriage. Here are some of things we teach premarital couples, or persons who may one day be married.

1. Marriage is a lifelong commitment.  "So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning." - Matthew 19:6ff. Marry someone who has "covenant" in their soul.

2. Your marriage will go through tough times. This is a lifelong commitment - "for better, for worse." There will be both. It is important to go through tough times before you are married. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." - James 1:2-3 

3. Be a servant to your spouse, putting his/her needs before your own. Lay down your own "rights" long before you stand at the altar and say "I do. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." - 1 Cor. 13:4-5

4. Learn to forgive. This is FOUNDATIONAL. Never marry someone who cannot let go of old wounds and holds on to grudges. "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." - Matthew 6:14-15

5. Admit when you are wrong, and seek reconciliation with your spouse. NEVER marry someone who can't say the words "I was wrong." You need to find this out before you walk down the aisle. "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." - Matthew 5:23-24

6. Make plans together, but don't be surprised when things don't turn out the way you planned. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." - Romans 12:2

7. Communicate often, but don't try to change your spouse. Instead, encourage and strengthen each other. You can't change the other, but you can be changed yourself. NEVER, EVER marry someone with the hope that you can change them and they will be different once you are married. "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." - Luke 6:41-42

8. Don't depend on your spouse to fill all your needs. Only God can do that. Marry someone who loves God and finds their life in God more than they love and find their life in you. "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD." - Jeremiah 17:5

9. Mutually submit to one another. "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." - Ephesians 5:22-28  

One more thing - for the person who says "But nobody's perfect!"


Aim higher than that.

Have a covenental soul.

Go through, not around, tough times. 

Serve others.

Forgive, as you have been forgiven.

When you are wrong, admit it. When the other person is wrong, relate to it.

Be flexible. Move with the Holy Spirit.

Focus on your own transformation into Christlikeness.

Make Jesus your everything, your all in all.

Humbly submit to one another.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Deconstructing Progressive Christianity: The Myth and Ideology of "Progress"


(I'm re-posting this for a friend. For a more complete presentation, see my book Deconstructing Progressive Christianity.
For the meaning of 'deconstruction' (because it is NOT what you think it is), see HERE.
You can throw some 'ex-vangelicalism' into this mix too.
And, sprinkle some liberalism over the entire thing.
Garnish with postmodernism.)


I am a husband (to Linda, since 1973). A father. A father-in-law. A grandfather! A pastor (since 1970). A professor (taught at several seminaries around the world). A philosopher, and a theologian. (PhD, Northwestern University, in Philosophical Theology, 1986).

I have studied people, and biblical and theological issues, and culture, for over fifty years. I am a constant reader and observer. 

A final note before I begin this first post. I have read, as a theologian myself, several of the theologians who are usually associated with progressive Christianity. (Postmodernism, deconstruction, critical theory, linguistic semantics and philosophy of language [my dissertation was in this area], and, yes, political progressivism.) Some of them have written books and articles that I have benefitted from. But then, along the way, some of them turned away from some core beliefs that I see as important to our faith. Some of them were "deconverted" from evangelical Christianity. That has saddened me. 

There are many theologians and biblical scholars, such as myself, who have not departed from what we see as essential. We could never be "exvangelicals." This is not out of ignorance. We are familiar with, and have wrestled with, all the questions progressivists raise. And wow! We see things differently. Which means: we disagree with each other. Which means: we think each other is wrong about some things. (For example, see Brian McLaren's vicious disagreement with The Nashville Statement, where he even brings in the KKK, implicating the 24,000+ theologians and biblical scholars, and even Francis Chan, J. I. Packer, and people like me, who agree with the Statement.)

For a more complete repudiation of progressive Christianity see my recent book Deconstructing Progressive Christianity. 


John Piippo

Redeemer Fellowship Church, Monroe, MI


The term 'progressive,' as a modifier linked with 'Christianity', is misleading, even false.

“Progressive” is not a word that fits into a Christian eschatological worldview.

Humanity, throughout history, has not morally and spiritually progressed.

The term "progressive" implies some kind of advancing, a moving forward towards some goal. My understanding of Christianity is that, while individuals and even communities can improve morally and spiritually (= Christ's character being formed in them), there will be nothing morally new under the sun until Christ returns.

This is because of the human sin problem. Every new generation has to deal with this. The next generation, and the generations beyond that, will not have progressed beyond this. (Note: I read one self-identifying progressive who thought humanity has progressed and will further advance so much that we can question whether or not we even need a Savior.)

Let's look more closely at the idea of "progress." Progress only makes sense in relation to a "goal." Such as: "I have made progress in my weight loss strategy. I am closer to my goal weight of 180 pounds." 

There are countless examples of this kind of progress. Someone’s goal is to play guitar like Eddie Van Halen. They take lessons. They practice. They are improving. They are making progress towards this goal.

“Progressive” implies “advancement”; “moving forward.” Towards some goal.

Someone else is constructing a house. Today they began digging the foundation. Next week they pour the cement. They are making progress toward the goal of building a house. That can be good. (It depends on what the house is used for.)

But "progress," in itself, is not always good. For example, I am overweight. My doctor has advised me to lose twenty pounds. But instead, my goal is to gain even more weight. This morning I step on the scale, and see I gained ten pounds over the holidays. Progress! Let us all cheer, and celebrate and affirm John's story! But, arguably, that’s not a progressive story to be celebrated. (FYI – I did not gain ten pounds over the holidays!)

Someone else researches the internet. Their goal is to build a bomb that will destroy buildings in downtown Nashville. Today they began constructing the bomb. They are making progress. They are moving forward. They are advancing toward their goal. Remember that 'forward' and 'backward' only make sense in relation to a goal.

What is the goal of progressive Christianity? And who sets this goal? In reading the literature of those who self-identify as progressive Christians, it’s not always clear to me that it is Christ. Perhaps, the goal for humanity is Love? For a Jesus-follower, it’s true that love is great, and greater than faith and hope. But I see the goal of history as Christ, not Love. Love is not greater than Christ. (See here.) 

My understanding of Christianity is that, in the lifetime of every person, the goal is the formation of the character of Christ in us, individually and collectively. As I read and talk with some who refer to themselves as progressive Christians, I hear them elevating Love and Desire-fulfillment to heights that should be reserved only for Christ. (For Desire-fulfillment as a "progressive" idea, and how this has come about historically, see especially Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.)

I see every generation of humanity as having a sin problem, which can only be addressed by the cross of Christ. My studies and observations indicate that humanity has not progressed, and will not progress, beyond that. And, my sense is that some progressive Christians are not thrilled about talking of sin. Affirmation? Yes! Desire-fulfillment? Yes! Sin? Meh...

I do not see the word 'progressive' as being part of what N.T. Wright describes as the "five act play" that is the Bible. Yes, in eternity we shall be like Jesus. But, in this present age, we are not progressing morally and spiritually. I view it as phenomenally difficult to demonstrate moral progress, over the years. Have we gotten better? Are we getting better?  The term “progressive” implies that we are. 

Yes, I know that Steven Pinker thinks that humanity, over time, has gotten kinder and gentler. I, and many others who have reacted to Pinker, do not. (See here.) Violence has declined, says Pinker, because humanity is getting less and less violent. 

This reminds me of what was perhaps the height of progressive optimism, in the early twentieth century. The Enlightenment belief was that human reason was now progressing to make a better world. And then came World War 1. And theologian Karl Barth was moved to write his commentary on Romans, with its teaching that all humanity sins and falls short of the glory of God. And then, Germany changed (progressed?) from a democratic republic in 1932 to a racist tyranny in 1934. And then, according atheist and scholar David Berlinski, the 20th century progressed into being the most murderous, violent in human history. (See Berlinski, The Devil’s Disciple: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. See also footnote [1] below.)

But… we have massively progressed technologically, right? Correct. But it is still humans who use and wield technological artifacts. A hammer is a piece of technology. Its appearance advanced us, assisting in doing things like building furniture and ships and homes and you name it. But the human being holding the hammer could also use it to hurt and destroy. I see morally unadvanced, non-progressed humanity as still doing that, only with greatly advanced artifacts with massive destructive capabilities.

I don’t think progress is necessarily good, in itself. When you hear the word "progressive" you should not automatically think "positive." Yes, we seem programmed to think that way. But truthfully, it all depends on the goal. And here is where the word “progressive” is of no help to me, because it functions as a euphemism that should not be attached as a modifier to the term 'Christianity'.  

I know the word "progressive" is politically popular. But I don't like it, because I see it as mythical at best. Jeffrey Burton Russell, in Exposing Myths About Christianity, writes:

“The predominant superstition of our times is Progress. Belief in lower-case ‘progress’ is reasonable, for progress can be made toward definable goals in specific fields, such as electrical engineering, plumbing or surgery. But people often believe in upper-case Progress, as in “The Progress of Humanity.” This is a superstition. Upper-case Progress implies moving toward an undefined capital-G Goal.”

One of the myths about Christianity that Russell exposes is that progress was something Jesus was trying to bring about. Scholar Terry Eagelton calls this the “ideology of Progress.” Russell writes that “the natural goodness of humanity is an illusion based neither in history nor biology, and the empty center of most Progressivism is the delusion that radical evil does not exist. Progressivism can become utopianism, which always sacrifices liberty for its ends, as Stalin did. Those who deny evil will be overtaken by it.”

Ahhh... the natural goodness of humanity. What an anti-Hobbes idea! What an anti-Freud idea! And, what an anti-Christ belief. From such a belief comes the ideology of affirmation. But, I ask, who in their right Christological mind could believe that Christ came, not to rescue us out of bondage to sin, but to affirm us?

Progressive Christianity is too utopian for me. Many, including me, believe that we are “regressing” in our humanity. To call progressive Christianity too utopian is to locate its roots in Hegel and Marx, who both thought humanity was inexorably progressing, but who disagreed on the engine driving the progression, as well as the goal or outcome.  Anyone want to join me in a "Regressive Christianity" movement?

Again, if the goal of life is to embrace the Lordship of Christ and have his character formed in us, I think one can view our time as one of regression, division, and polarization. In fact, I, and many others, see progressive Christianity as divisive (e.g., I am aware of some young people who identify as progressive Christians and tie this in with their newfound belief that the Old Testament is just a bunch of made-up stories. I'll say more about this in my third post.) 

Is humanity progressing? Or regressing? Or decadent and stagnant? (See New York Times writer Ross Douthat's recent The Decadent Society.) You need to know this has always been a topic of discussion among scholars. The answers are not obvious. If we are talking about moral and spiritual development or regression, it is far from obvious that some kind of progressive movement is actually happening. I submit to you that it is not. And I can see, without much effort, that progressive Christianity is aiding the regression. (See footnote [2] below.)

In all this I am saying that I could never refer to myself as a progressive Christian because it commits a mistake… a category mistake… when the two words are placed next to each other. This is not a matter of mere semantics. The kingdom of God, said Jesus, was "not of this world." Therefore, the kingdom of God was not the end-result of an ever-progressive earthly kingdom.

I have a suggestion. I began following Jim Wallis in the early 1970s, when he began publishing what was to become the magazine Sojourners. Wallis is one who is often cited as a "progressive" Christian. But in the Times interview, Wallace says he would rather be called a "follower of Jesus."

Me too.

It's time to get rid of the term "progressive Christianity." And self-refer as "follower of Jesus." This would lead to interesting discussions, to include the morality of Jesus (see here, e.g.) and the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament. Some progressive Christians, many of them unthinkingly, are on the "dismiss the Old Testament" bandwagon. Let's just focus on Jesus." The problem is, when you focus on Jesus, you see Jesus as not dismissing an authoritative Old Testament.  

Finally, in the term “progressive Christianity,” the word ‘progressive’ is a modifier. It modifies the word ‘Christianity.’ ‘Progressive’ is a euphemism. It puts a happy spin on Christianity. It also feels like a judgment on those who are not “progressive.” which provides another reason as to why I could never call myself a progressive Christian.

[1] On atheism (esp. atheistic existentialism) there is no goal in life. Thus, humanity is not progressing towards anything, nor is it regressing away from anything. Nor is it decadent. This leads to things like Theatre of the Absurd, and Camus’s Sysiphus, and Becket’s Waiting for Godot.

[2] For an interesting, illuminating article on whether or not humanity is "progressing," see atheist John Gray's excellent review of The Evolution of Moral Progress: A Biocultural Theory, by Alan Buchanon and Russell Powell. 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

In Praise of Singleness

(Circle of prayer)
(I'm re-posting this to keep it in play.)

There is nothing wrong with you if you are not married. There may be a lot right with you.

Some of our best friends are single. It's worth noting that Jesus, and the apostle Paul, were single. "Until the Reformation, most of the superstars of Christianity were single." (David Bennett, A War of Loves, p. 127)

When I became a Jesus-follower, God told me to lay off trying to hustle women, and take a full year away from dating. I did. 

That was a wonderful year for me. I began to find out about what Colossians 1:18 calls "the supremacy of Christ." Christ was my "head," I was part of his "body," the body of Christ, his "Church." (Col. 1:18 again)

I felt free from cultural pressure to date. My life-goal was no longer to find a "soul mate," because my soul was mated to Christ. The great quest was to find Christ, to be found in him. I was beginning to understand this. I was allowing God to change me in ways that would be good for any future relationship I might be in.

If you are not dating, or not married, give thanks to God. You have a Pauline opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:8) to draw so very close to the only One who purely loves your soul. Take advantage of this, and rejoice!

If you feel pressure to date and mate ask yourself, where does this come from? I have seen Christian parents who lay pressure on their children to date and get married. Too many times the child ends up marrying anyone, just to please, at least unconsciously, their mother and father. This pressure is not from God. It creates the idolatrous idea that marriage is life's greatest thing. It is not. Like any false god, this will let you down.

I've seen a lot of "Christian" marriages that are toxic, not because of "irreconcilable differences" or "incompatibility," but because of spiritual and emotional immaturity. These marriages are particularly hellish because both partners are Christians. If you are not in a marriage like this, give thanks. You have been spared from a dark existence. And, be thankful if you are not making babies with an adult baby.

Simply because a husband and wife are Christians does not guarantee their marriage will be wonderful. There is a ton of ongoing marital work to be done, and this never ends. Few people count the cost of marriage, and end up paying in ways they never imagined.

I don't want to minimize loneliness. I do want to inform you that there are plenty of lonely people in their marriages. 

There's nothing wrong in desiring and praying for a life partner. There is something wrong with the idea that life will never be flourishing without one. Imagine how Christ feels about that! David Bennett writes:

"Jesus was an unmarried, childless man in a Jewish society of family values, and a celibate in a Roman society of sexual liberation that mocked singleness. In a world of two-sided sexual obsession, Jesus invited others into pure intimacy, modeled loving friendship, and lived in life-giving singleness." (A War of Loves, p. 129) 

(What if you are in a marriage that is troubled? See my post - How to Save Your Failing Marriage.)

Friday, June 16, 2023

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. 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."

Thursday, June 15, 2023

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%)

Some pastors acquiesce to the American way. They work hard 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. (= 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 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.) That describes 2023 in America.

At Redeemer, one way we combat the religious mindlessness is to preach, on Sunday mornings, through the biblical texts. 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 the book of Acts. This is exhilarating, empowering, equipping, and encouraging for anyone who desires to interpret the vicissitudes of culture through the lens of The Enduring Word.

Biblical illiteracy fuels religious mindlessness and cultural conformism. The Bible is our distinctive, our text. In the Bible a follower of Jesus gets situated in the Grand Narrative.

We 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.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Is the Goal of Life Personal Amusement?

(Valley Forge, PA)

It is indeed a strange thought that the end should be amusement, and that the busyness and suffering throughout one’s life should be for the sake of amusing oneself. 


And yet, that is where we are in America today. And that is where many pastors and churches are. We must keep the people "happy." We are, as NYU professor Neil Postman wrote, "amusing ourselves to death."

Because life's goal has become amusement, "happiness" studies abound. In "Happiness: Beyond the Data," U of Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting writes:

Happiness studies are booming in the social sciences, and governments are moving toward quantitative measures of a nation’s overall happiness, meant to supplement traditional measures of wealth and productivity."

Gutting agrees that the pursuit of happiness does not lead to happiness. When the purpose of life becomes the bucket-list pursuit of pleasure, unhappiness and disquietude results. How so?

"The danger — particularly for a society as rich as ours — is making pleasure the central focus in the pursuit of a happy life. This is done explicitly in some versions of utilitarian ethics, which regard happiness as simply the maximal accumulation of pleasurable experiences. But pleasures themselves often induce a desire for their repetition and intensification, and without moderation from a reflective mind, they can marginalize the work that lies at the core of true happiness.
A pathology of pleasures is often signaled by an obsession with not “missing out” on particularly attractive pleasures and strong disappointment when a highly anticipated experience does not meet expectations. (Examples from the world of food and wine are widely available.) In my view, the best strategy to avoid “hedonic corruption” of happiness is to welcome wholeheartedly the pleasures that come our way but not to make the explicit pursuit of pleasure a dominating part of our life project. The same, of course, applies to the money that is so often the price of pleasure."

Life, real life, is not gained in the pursuit of pleasure.

Note for church leaders and pastors: Many of your people are happiness-seekers rather than Jesus-followers. Do not make it your objective to keep your people happy. It will lead to never-ending incompleteness, and burnout.  

The Great American Search for Happiness leads to unhappiness. That's what philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote years ago. Hoffer said: “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”

"This obsessive, driven, relentless pursuit is a characteristically American struggle — the exhausting daily application of the Declaration of Independence. But at the same time this elusive MacGuffin is creating a nation of nervous wrecks. Despite being the richest nation on earth, the United States is, 
according to the World Health Organization, by a wide margin, also the most anxious, with nearly a third of Americans likely to suffer from an anxiety problem in their lifetime. America’s precocious levels of anxiety are not just happening in spite of the great national happiness rat race, but also perhaps, because of it."
- Ruth Whippman, "
America the Anxious" (nytimes, September 22, 2012)

Whippman continues:

"The American approach to happiness can spur a debilitating anxiety. The initial sense of promise and hope is seductive, but it soon gives way to a nagging slow-burn feeling of inadequacy. Am I happy? Happy enough? As happy as everyone else? Could I be doing more about it? Even basic contentment feels like failure when pitched against capital-H Happiness. The goal is so elusive and hard to define, it’s impossible to pinpoint when it’s even been achieved — a recipe for neurosis."

This makes sense to me. Our age, writes Elaine Showalter in The Chronicle of Higher Education, is an 
age of anxiety.

How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown, medical historian Edward Shorter says that "It has not escaped many observers that today we are drenched in anxiety." Psychiatrist Jeffrey Kahn states that "commonplace anxiety and depressive disorders" affect at least 20% of Americans. That's 60 million people. In our pursuit of happiness we have become depressingly unhappy. (See Kahn, Angst: Origins of Anxiety and Depression) Woo-hoo, right?

Academics are particularly unhappy and depressed, argues University of Texas professor Ann Cvetkovich, in 
Depression: A Public Feeling. She writes:

Academe "breeds particular forms of panic and anxiety leading to what gets called depression—the fear that you have nothing to say, or that you can't say what you want to say, or that you have something to say but it's not important enough or smart enough."

Instead of happiness, opt for blessedness. The Jesus-idea of "happiness" is the promise of "blessedness." 

·                Blessedness is independent of material or social conditions. 
·                Blessedness is not to be pursued for its own sake, since to do so would cause it to suffer the same infelicitous fate as meets all whose life goal is "happiness." 
·                Blessedness is an indirect byproduct of the pursuit of God and the love of others, for their own sake and not for what you can get. One gives one's life away for God and others and thereby gains life. 
This is, precisely, anti-American in its non-consumerism. The result is a blessed life.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Romans 8:18 - A Personal Note


                                                   (With my grandson Levi at the zoo.)

The first verse I remember memorizing as a new Christian was Romans 8:18. 

 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing 
with the glory that will be revealed in us. 

I was 21 years old. I had recently flunked out of college, and was trying to make a new beginning in community college, and in life. I had hurt some relationships with my drug and alcohol use, which also caused damage to my spirit. I was lacking direction in life, except that I now was fully committed to following Jesus. My internal suffering was about self-inflicted scars from my previous careless lifestyle. Yet now, my sinful stains were wiped clean. 

I now think of these sufferings as minimal compared to what others go through. And yet, to me, two things were happening. I lamented over a wasted three years of life (post-high school). I had found new life in Jesus and was excited about this.

And I read this verse. It stood out to me. It has never left me, and comes to mind often. It gives me a perspective that I lacked before coming to Jesus. I have a future that is infused with the glory of God and overwhelms my sufferings!

Monday, June 12, 2023




Stay Focused

(Linda, with out grandson Levi - June 2020)

Linda and I have been at Redeemer in Monroe for thirty-one years. What a blessing our church family is to us!

When we interviewed for this position we shared our priorities with Redeemer’s leaders. They still are:

1.    God first.
2.    Our marriage second.
3.    Our children third.
4.    The church fourth.

This is our focus. The pandemic and cultural chaos has not changed this. In fact, it intensifies our focus.

We will not lose sight of God, our marriage, and our family, for the sake of the ministry God has given us.

If we lose sight of God, we will then be like a branch detached from the trunk of the tree. Such a branch, said Jesus, is worthless. This has always made sense to me. Why would I listen to a preacher if they don’t habitually meet with God to pray, and meditate on Scripture?

Why should anyone listen to me if I do not invest in my marriage?

What spiritual integrity would I have if I neglect my children?

Time with God.

Time with Linda.

Our sons are older, but we still love connecting with them.

Time being with, and meeting with, our church family.

Stay Connected

When a furious storm assaults the land, like a tornado, or a hurricane, one thing people do not want to see is the loss of power. I remember this happening to us a few times. In the aftermath of one storm, we lost power for several days. That experience occurred when cell phones were nonexistent.
The power loss meant loss of phone connection with friends and loved ones, danger of losing refrigerated food, using flashlights and occasional candles in the dark, concern over the basement's sump pump not working, and waiting...   for the power to return.

When a storm hits, do all you can to stay connected to your power source. This principle holds today, as we are experiencing an ungodly trinity of storms - pandemic, economic panic, and pandemonium in the streets of some of our cities.
In these physical and cultural storms, stay connected to Jesus. Reinforce your attachment to Him.

It's in life's storms that we discover how branch-like we are. 

Be branches, connected to Jesus, the true Vine. In John 15 Jesus instructs His disciples with these words.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. 
If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; 
apart from me you can do nothing. 
If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch 
that is thrown away and withers; 
such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, 
ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, 
showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Note that Jesus does not add this qualification: WARNING: IN THE STORMS OF LIFE THIS WON'T WORK.

Today is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. This has not changed. Rejoicing attaches me to Jesus.

I begin the day with opening the Book. For months now I've been starting with the book of Proverbs. As I read the Word, it attaches me to Jesus.

I am praying this morning. This is my habit. Praying is talking with God about what He and I are doing together. Today. Praying is intimate conversation with God. In praying, I strengthen the connection with Him.

God is a strong tower. He still stands. God is an anchor. The anchor still holds. God is a tree that shall never be uprooted. 

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, 
stand firm. 
Let nothing move you. 
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, 
because you know that your labor in the Lord 
is not in vain.

- 1 Corinthians 15:58

Stay Joyful

(Linda and I were at Maumee Bay State Park today, where I spent some time meditating on this cloud.)

Be joyful.

But, in these turbulent times? How is it possible to be joyful with everything we see on the news?

Because part of the "fruit," the produce, of the Holy Spirit in us is joy. Jesus-followers are joy-bearers. Galatians 5:22-23 says:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 

The Message translation reads this way.

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. 

Jesus has told me that, if I live connected to Him, I will "bear much fruit." This includes joy.

But, again, what about during the tough times? Is it possible to produce joy when things around me are falling apart?

I believe so. Look at Paul's letter to the Philippians. Where is Paul writing from? The answer is: jail. Paul is imprisoned. Yet even this situation does not rob him of joy. That must have been frustrating to his captors!

Paul opens the letter this way. 

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

Imagine Paul, praying with joy. Might he have a smile on his face? Could he have laughed out loud? Even though in jail?

James 1:2-4 gives us this remarkable counsel.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Here is this word "joy," from

χαρά,n  \{khar-ah'}
1) joy, gladness  1a) the joy received from you  1b) the cause or occasion of joy  1b1) of persons who are one's joy 

It's an emotion! The appropriate response is: Rejoice!

Paul's letter to the Philippians is saturated with joy. Sixteen times, in just four chapters, Paul uses words like 'rejoice' or 'joy' to describe what our state of mind or general attitude should be as Christians. 

He writes this joy-soaked letter in the midst of his own difficult circumstances. He was under house arrest in Rome, chained to a different Roman soldier every few hours. He had just spent three years in prison in Caesarea. By the time he wrote to the Philippians, he had been in Roman custody for several years. Yet, rather than allow his circumstances to drive him to despair, he experienced deep gladness and invited the Philippians to share in this. 

Paul ends his letter with some more joy. In 4:1 we read:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

Is this naive, unrealistic, and out-of-touch? Not at all. The joy of the Lord provides a lens, through which I see all of life, including some harsh realities. 

I know this personally. At seventy-one years old (really??!!), I have experienced suffering and loss. As a pastor, I am communicating, nearly every day, with persons who are broken in some way. Today has been no exception! But, through it all, I resolve to not allow the enemy to prowl in my vineyard and the kill the joy the Spirit is growing in me. 

Is this oil of gladness like the emotion I feel when I look at our first grandchild, Levi? I think so. 

During this season of life, the enemy is not robbing me of the joy that is mine, regardless of the circumstances. 

Join me as we fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

Stay Calm

(Green Lake, Wisconsin)

I have done a lot of flying, around America, and overseas to other countries. I don't fear flying. I don't even mind some turbulence. But I will admit that, in extended times of turbulence, the sound of the pilot's calm voice is reassuring to me that we are going to get through this.

When turbulent times come, leaders need to be calm. This goes all the way from government leaders down to doctors, down to police officers and firemen, down to teachers and caregivers and, yes, parents, too. When the child's heart is troubled, the calm spirit of the parent ministers to them.

A calm heart not only diminishes fear. It is needed for accurate discernment. Some decisions are hard enough to discern when you're not in panic mode. Panic makes it harder to see clearly. In general, never make important decisions when your heart is agitated.

Jesus consistently calms the agitated heart. We see this in the story of the storm on the Sea of Galilee.

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 
36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 
37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 
38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, 
“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down 
and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? 
Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Mark 4
Surely God is not in a panic about what's now happening in the world. From a place of calm, Jesus says to his disciples,
Do not let your hearts be agitated.
You believe in God.
Believe also in me. 
John 14:1
Panic is not part of the fruit of the Spirit. Peace is. (Gal. 5:22-23) And, this peace is otherworldly, from heaven, given to you, and me, now. (See HERE.)
The calmness that is the heart of God guards our hearts and minds from turbulence. (See HERE.)
Stay in that place.
Stay calm.

Stay in Place

(I took this photo of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.)

From 1981 - 1992 Linda and I were campus pastors at Michigan State University. The campus is sprawling and beautiful. It hosts many botanical gardens. We loved riding bikes and walking on the miles of paths.

I remember something that caught our attention as we were on campus. We were walking up an incline. Ahead of us, on top of the hill, a young man was standing, with his back to us. His eyes were fixed on something on the other side of the hill. As we got to the top we saw, below in the valley, two German shepherds. They were sitting, their bodies frozen like statues, their eyes locking with the eyes of their master. 

Then, the master said, "Come!" The two German shepherds raced up the hill and sat at their master's feet.

I have never forgotten this scene of the obedient dogs and their trainer. Nothing was going to move the dogs, except the master's command.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 15 the apostle Paul writes of the defeat of death and the victory inherent in the resurrection.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”


“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory 

through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since we already have the victory, Paul instructs us to be immovable. 

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, 

stand firm. 

Let nothing move you. 

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, 

because you know that your labor in the Lord 

is not in vain.

Stay in place.

Lock your eyes on the eyes of Jesus.

Stay anchored. (See HERE.)

Stay planted. (See HERE.)

Let nothing move you, except the voice of your Master.

Stay Content

(Fisher Theater, Detroit)

I am promised peace and contentment that surpasses human intelligence and transcends life's circumstances. There is a place of calm, of rest, available and accessible to me. 

The biblical "fruit of the Spirit" is noncircumstantial (Galatians 5:22-23). Otherwise, my attitudes would go up and down with the news. 

I am told that the heart-conditions of being at peace, being kind, being joyful, and so on, are independent of my life circumstances. Otherwise love, peace, patience, kindness, and so on, rise or fall depending on what I am facing. The real thing, if it exists at all, must be something unattached to the vicissitudes of life.

True contentment, as well, is noncircumstantial. We see this in Paul, who wrote:

"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)

Whatever the circumstances. I want to learn that secret! While not yet my full possession, it is my desire. To have it is to be free. Out of such freedom, I am able to love and live. 

How is true contentment attained? Contentment is a function of connectedness. Contentment increases as I am attached, branchlike, to Jesus, who is Vinelike. 

Any other answer to human flourishing is foolish. This is important to understand, in the midst of our materialist, entertainment, consumer culture. Thomas Merton writes: 

"If we are fools enough to remain at the mercy of people who want to sell us happiness, it will be impossible for us ever to be content with anything. How would they profit if we became content? We would no longer need their new product. The last thing the salesman wants is for the buyer to become content. You are no use in our affluent society unless you are always about to grasp what you never have." (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 84)

Our culture mitigates against contentment. It thrives on perpetual discontentedment. Imagine how unhelpful this is in a pandemic.

True contentment requires an a-cultural stance that is circumstance-free. From this transcendent point of view, our hearts have risen above life's conditions. We begin to see earth, through the lens of heaven.

Stay content.