Monday, April 29, 2024

Non-Discursive Experiences of God

(Kitty Hawk, NC)

A non-discursive experience is an experience that is felt and "known" as real, but which cannot be captured in the steel nets of literal language. One has such experiences, but cannot discourse about them. (On religious experiences that "I know that I know that I know" but cannot speak of, see James K.A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues.)

I experience God in a variety of ways, many of which are non-discursive. This is how it should be, right? None of us has epistemic access to the being of God. We fail to fully understand what it's like to be all-knowing, or all-loving, or all-powerful.

The expression of a non-discursive experience is confessional and testimonial. There is a sense in which it cannot be refuted. What does this mean? Say, for example, that I now feel joy. I make the statement, “Now I feel joy.” It would be odd, in a Wittgensteinian-kind of way, for someone to say “You’re wrong.” That would be leaving the language-game I’m now playing. (Wittgensteinian “playing” is what I have here in mind.)

Consider the statement, “I felt God close to me today.” Even a philosophical materialist could not doubt that today I had some kind of numinous experience which I describe as God being with me. They could doubt that what caused my experience was “God.” I understand this. But their doubt has no effect on my experience and the interpretation of it. Their doubt does not make me a doubter, precisely because I am not a philosophical materialist. I see no reason to disbelieve my experiences because others do not have them. This relates, I think, to Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne's "principle of credulity."

At this point I’m influenced by theistic philosophers Alvin Plantinga and William P. Alston. For them, belief in God is properly basic if the noetic framework of Christian theism is true. Plantinga’s work on “warranted belief” and Alston’s work on the “experiential basis of theism” is helpful here. Alston writes: 

“the relatively abstract belief that God exists is constitutive of the doxastic practice of forming particular beliefs about God's presence and activity in our lives on the basis of theistic experience.” 

For Alston, experiential support for theism is analogous to experiential support for belief in the physical world. He explains what he means by “theistic experience.” He writes:

I “mean it to range over all experiences that are taken by the experiencer to be an awareness of God (where God is thought of theistically). I impose no restrictions on its phenomenal quality. It could be a rapturous loss of conscious self-identity in the mystical unity with God; it could involve "visions and voices"; it could be an awareness of God through the experience of nature, the words of the Bible, or the interaction with other persons; it could be a background sense of the presence of God, sustaining one in one's ongoing activities. Thus the category is demarcated by what cognitive significance the subject takes it to have, rather than by any distinctive phenomenal feel.”

For Plantinga, if the noetic framework of Christian theism is true, then I can expect to experience God. God exists, has made us in his image, has placed a moral consciousness within us, has revealed himself in the creation, and desires for us to know him. Plantinga, of course, believes this noetic framework is true. As do I. One then expects experiential encounters with God. They come to us, as Alston says, like sense-experiences.

This is to argue for the rationality of theistic experiences. One can have “warrant” for the belief that such experiences are from God. But these experiences do not function as “proofs” of God’s existence.

Non-discursive experiences, and experiences in general, cannot be caught in the steel nets of literal language. “Experience” qua experience has what French philosopher Paul Ricoeur has called a “surplus of meaning.” “Words” never capture all of experience. All experiencing has a non-discursive quality. Here the relationship of words to experiencing leads to volumes of discussion in areas such as linguistic semantics and philosophy of language.

Even a sentence as seemingly simple as “I see a tree” is, phenomenally, incomplete. Consider this experience: sitting on an ocean beach watching the sun set with the person you are falling in love with. Ricoeur called such experiences “limit-experiences”; viz., experiences that arise outside the limits of thought and language. But people want to express, in words, these events. For that, Ricoeur says a “limit-language” is needed, such as metaphorical expression. So-called “literal language” cannot capture limit-experiences.

Every person has limit-experiences that are non-discursive.

Experience, not theory, breeds conviction. Theorizing either for or against God is not as convincing as the sense of the presence of God or the sense of the absence of God. This is why I keep returning to my “conversion experience.”

Among the God-experiences I consistently have are:
- A sense that God is with me
- Numinous experiences of awe and wonder (not mere “Einsteinian wonder”)
- God speaking to me
- God leading me
- God comforting me
- God’s love expressed towards me
- God’s Spirit convicting me
- God directing me
- Overwhelming experience of God
- God revealing more of himself to me

These experiences are mediated through:
-Corporate worship
-Solitary times of prayer
-Study of the Christian scriptures
-Observing the creation
-In difficult and testing situations

Sometimes I have experienced God in an unmediated way.

I discern and judge such things to be experiences of God because...
-I spend many hours a week praying
-I have heavily invested myself in prayer and meditation for the past 42+ years
-I saturate myself in the Christian scriptures
-I study the history of Christian spirituality
-I keep a spiritual journal and have 3000+ pages of journal entries concerning God-experiences
-I hang out with people who do all of the above
- I've taught this material in various seminaries, at conferences, in the United States & elsewhere around the world. I've gained a multi-ethnic perspective on the subject of experiencing God.

All this increases one’s diacritical ability (dia-krisis; “discernment”; lit. “to cut through”). Spiritual diacritical ability is mostly acquired. It is in direct proportion to familiarity.

The more we live in connection with God, the more familiar we will be with the presence of God. We will speak of it, and our words will fall short of expressing it, which is how it should be.


My books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Pastors Among the Unthinking Herd

(One of my favorite postcards)

I love pastors. I have taught many pastors. I am a pastor. I am not to be conformed to the leadership styles of this world.

The warning Paul issues in Romans 12:1-2 concerns the shape of our hearts; viz., that we not be world-conformed. This is relevant in every age, and especially so in today's America, where the invasion of secularity has captured and shaped the hearts of the masses. Many Christians, and many pastors, have joined the ranks of the unthinking Kierkegaardian herd.

In the midst of this nihilistic wasteland God raises up prophetic voices, even speaking from the grave. One of them is Henri Nouwen. In The Way of the Heart he writes:

"Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives."
(Nouwen, The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles, Kindle Locations 893-896)

Nouwen sees the manifestations of pastoral captivity and world-conformity. They include:

  • Pastors are too busy with meetings, visits, many services to lead. Pastors move through life in a distracted way, rarely stopping to ask if any of this busyness is worth thinking, saying, or doing.
  • Pastors have become advertisers who must motivate people to come to church, who must make sure the youth are entertained, who must raise money to keep the infrastructure going, and above all, pastors need to see that everyone is happy.
  • Pastors have become "busy people just like all other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people." (Ib., K899)
  • Pastors have lost their real identity in Christ, and have morphed into affirmation addicts: "Who am I? I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated or despised." (Ib., K906)
  • What matters to many pastors today is not what God thinks of them, but how they are perceived by the world.
Nouwen saw anger in pastoral leaders, coming from culture-shaped hearts that have taken on the consumer values of the world. He writes:

"Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ. (Ib., K919-923)

Are things really that bad in ministry? I think so. I've taught my spiritual formation materials to five thousand pastors, and Nouwen's insights resonate with me. And, I have discovered the seeds of secularity in my own heart.

The warning the apostle Paul gives against world-conformity is real, and the entrapment is subtle. It doesn't happen overnight. One morning a pastor can wake up and sense that something has gone wrong in his or her heart. They realize, following Nouwen, that they are passengers on a ship that is sinking.

Nouwen's counsel, and mine as well, is: Jump ship! Swim for your life! Run to the place of your salvation, which is the place of solitude and presence of God. Reside there, and be transformed into Christlikeness by the renewing of your mind. (This is why the Desert Fathers went to the desert in the first place.)

Two of my books are

Friday, April 26, 2024

The Meaning of Life


                                                                       (Sunset, Monroe, Michigan - 5/26/22)

Does life have ultimate meaning? To answer this question we need to ask: what is the meaning of 'meaning'?

I define 'meaning' as: situatedness within a coherent context. The reason we didn't get the meaning of a joke is that, as one sometimes says, "You had to be there." To understand a joke one must share the context in which the joke is situated. To understand the meaning of a foreign word one must be situated within the particular linguistic context. And so on.

Meaning is contextual. If there were no context, there would be no meaning.

So, does your life, my life, have ultimate meaning? Only if it has a place within a coherent context, or a metanarrative.

If there is no Creator God, there is no coherent, cosmic context. If no context, no meaning, because 'meaning' is situatedness within a context. 

Jean-Paul Sartre understood this. He believed that, in a godless universe, life has no meaning or purpose beyond the goals that each person sets for themselves. In Being and Nothingness Sartre wrote: 

"Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth." 

Which is to say: without God human life has no ultimate, cosmic meaning. Without God, there is no "grander scheme of things."

Commenting on Sartre, philosopher Leslie Stevenson writes: 

"There is no ultimate meaning or purpose inherent in human life; in this sense life is 'absurd'. We are 'forlorn', 'abandoned' in the world to look after ourselves completely. Sartre insists that the only foundation for values is human freedom, and that there can be no external or objective justification for the values anyone chooses to adopt." (Seven Theories of Human Nature)

Sartre is correct. Atheists who attempt to give life meaning are only spinning absurdities out of their own isolated existences. Only if a God who created the universe exists can our lives have meaning.

For some discussion on the meaning of life, see, e.g....

The Meaning of Life: A Reader, E.D. Klemke and Steven Cahn, eds.

Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl

The Meaning of Meaning, I. A. Richards and C K.Ogden

The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction, Terry Eagelton

See also this -

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Dr. Seuss's Philosophy of Birthdays


One of my favorite birthday books is Dr. Seuss’s epic Happy Birthday to You. For many years I read it to my sons on their birthdays. This has stopped, since they are now in their thirties and forties

Happy Birthday to You is the story of the Birthday Bird (hereafter BB) from the land of Katroo (hereafter Katroo), who arrives one night at the bedside of a boy on the eve of the boy’s birthday. The BB sweeps the kid up and takes him to Katroo for the hugest sugar-carb-filled birthday ever seen.

Seuss writes, on the BB:

“Katroo is the only place Birthday Birds grow.

This bird has a brain. He's the most beautifully brained

With the brainiest bird-brain that's ever been trained.

He was trained by the most splendid Club in this nation,

The Katroo Happy Birthday Asso-see-eye-ation.”

Even though Seuss does some loopy question-begging here, we see that the BB is smart. How smart? The BB has the “brainiest bird-brain that’s ever been trained.” 

The word “brainiest” is a superlative, indicating incomparability. But it does mot mean "greatest possible brain." The "brainiest" being still might be downright stupid. But, for the sake of birthday fun, assume the BB knows a lot and has Anselmian roots, approaching “a brain a greater than which cannot be conceived.” If it is a brain a greater than which cannot be conceived, then the BB has omniscience. With a hat tip to Greatest Possible Being philosophy, the BB may be an omniscient being.

The BB’s brain is “beautiful.” Like Nobel Laureate John Nash, the BB has “a beautiful mind.” Here one does not mean the brain’s physicality, but its sheer cognitive mental powers. But if the BB’s brain was “trained,” does that not imply that the brain-trainers of the Katroo Happy Birthday Asso-see-eye-ation have brainier brains than the brainiest brain of the BB? An omniscient brain would not require training. It would wrongly require a brain that was greater than a greatest possible brain. So on this point Seuss is broaches logical incoherent. At the very least, if the BB has been trained by bird-mentors, then the brains of those bird-mentors r brainer than the brain of the BB.

"Dr." Seuss made his living on logical incoherencies. But that fact should not cause one to dismiss what comes next. To do so would be to miss some interesting philosophizing.

“He [the BB] knows your address, and he heads for your bed.

You hear a soft swoosh in the brightening sky.

You are not all awake. But you open one eye.

Then over the housetops and trees of Katroo,

You see that bird coming! To you. Just to you!

That Bird pops right in! You are up on your feet!”

This is troublesome. A total stranger who:

1) Knows your address? How did the BB know your address? Because an omniscient being knows all things that can possibly be known, which would include your address.

2) The BB “pops right in.”

3) The BB “heads for your bed.”

This is disconcerting. The boy does not know the BB. He does not know the BB is quite-knowing. Even if he did know that the BB is beyond smart, this does not imply that the BB is benevolent. As far as the boy knows, the BB may be malevolent. (See Descartes's "evil genius.") Here is a very smart and possibly malevolent Bird popping into your room, and heading for your bed. This is the stuff of nightmares. 

The BB says to the boy, “Get dressed!” This is an abduction. He sweeps the boy away, and on to Katroo! 

Five minutes later, you're having a snack

On your way out of town on a Smorgasbord's back.

"Today," laughs the Bird, "eat whatever you want.

Today no one tells you you cawnt or you shawnt.

And, today, you don't have to be tidy or neat.

If you wish, you may eat with both hands and both feet.

So get in there and munch. Have a big munch-er-oo!

Today is your birthday! Today you are you!

My concerns and thoughts include:

• The use of ‘cawnt’ and ‘shawnt’ are typical Seuss-isms as he violates grammatical rules to desperately keep the rhyme going.

• The assumption is: on your birthday, no one has the right to tell you what you can or cannot do.(
Pidän tästä, koska tänään on syntymäpäiväni). 

• All food groups and food non-groups are fair game on your birthday. (
Pidän tästä, koska tänään on syntymäpäiväni).

• Forget all sanitary rules. (
En pidä tästä.)

• Even eat with hands and both feet. The thought of eating with my feet disturbs me. Especially since, at my age, I can barely touch my feet.

• On your birthday you can eat like a pig with its snout everlastingly nuzzling in the trough of all calories.

Seuss then engages in some big-time philosophizing. He writes: 

“Today is your birthday. Today you are you!”

But of course. 

You are you. ‘A’ is ‘A.’ This is the logic of identity. It’s tautological thinking, redundant stuff, Kantian analytic predicating, Leibnizian "identity of indiscernibles." When the subject is the self and the predicate is also the self we have a powerful, existential statement of personal identity. We are now heading in two converging directions; viz., Cartesian deductive certainty and Kierkegaard’s idea of truth as subjectivity. Let us proceed.

“If we didn't have birthdays, you wouldn't be you.

If you'd never been born, well then what would you do?

If you'd never been born, well then what would you be?

You might be a fish! Or a toad in a tree!

You might be a doorknob! Or three baked potatoes!

You might be a bag full of hard green tomatoes.

Or worse than all that… Why, you might be a WASN'T!

A Wasn't has no fun at all. No, he doesn't.

A Wasn't just isn't. He just isn't present.

But you… You ARE YOU! And, now isn't that pleasant!”

Seuss sets before us a philosophical smorgasbord. There are so many choices here that one wonders where to begin!

1. “If you’d never been born, then what would you do?” The answer is, ‘you’ wouldn’t ‘do’ anything, since ‘you’ would not be. "You" would not even be a "nonexistent thing," as if nonexistence could be predicated of nothing. ("Nonexistent thing" is a contradiction.)

2. You might be “a toad in a tree.” But this cannot be true, since if ‘you’ had never been born, then ‘you’ would not have been born as a toad in a tree. Had you been born as a toad in a tree, you would have been born, and thus be a "you," but you would not know it. We have toads croaking in our backyard as I write. Perhaps some of them are in trees. Not one of them is thinking, “Wow – I was born as a toad in a tree!”

3. You could never have been born as a doorknob. No current physical theory allows for that kind of thing to happen. Doorknobs cannot procreate.

4. But… you might be a “Wasn’t.” That is, if you had never been born, even as a toad in a tree (but not as a doorknob) you would not exist at all and would be, ipso facto, a ‘Wasn’t.’ 

Pause here for a moment. Let us compare Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness with Seussian philosophy.

In the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy essay on “Sartre’s Existentialism” we read:

“Sartre’s ontology is explained in his philosophical masterpiece, Being and Nothingness, where he defines two types of reality which lie beyond our conscious experience: the being of the object of consciousness and that of consciousness itself. The object of consciousness exists as “in-itself,” that is, in an independent and non-relational way. However, consciousness is always consciousness “of something,” so it is defined in relation to something else, and it is not possible to grasp it within a conscious experience: it exists as “for-itself.” An essential feature of consciousness is its negative power, by which we can experience “nothingness.” This power is also at work within the self, where it creates an intrinsic lack of self-identity. So the unity of the self is understood as a task for the for-itself rather than as a given.”

The connections between Sartre and Seuss should be obvious, even for a bird-brain. But just in case they are not:

1. Seuss’s “You are you” (or later, his “I am I”) is “independent and non-relational.” Here, the Seussian self is not defined in relation to something else. It exists “for itself.” This is precisely the kind of birthday Seuss is advocating; viz., a birthday that is only about the self and for the self. I like this because today is my birthday.

2. A ‘Wasn’t’ has an “intrinsic lack of self-identity.” That is, a ‘Wasn’t’ essentially, or ontologically, lacks self-identity. Lacking predicates, it is a Nothing.

The philosophical excitement builds as Seuss writes:

“Shout loud at the top of your voice, "I AM I!


I am I!

And I may not know why

But I know that I like it.

Three cheers! I AM I!"”

Sartre’s definition of existentialism is: existence precedes essence. One first of all, primordially, exists. “I am .” Or: ‘A’ is ‘A.’ The predicate is self-identical with the subject. One’s existence is, drawing from Kant, “analytic” rather than “synthetic.”

Seuss continues:

“Sing loud, "I am lucky!" Sing loud, "I am I!"

If you'd never been born, then you might be an ISN'T!

An Isn't has no fun at all. No he disn't.

He never has birthdays, and that isn't pleasant.

You have to be born, or you don't get a present.”

Here a celebration breaks forth as the Cartesian certainty is clarified. I exist! Seuss’s Cartesian certainty is as follows:

1. I have a birthday.

2. Therefore I am.

You have to exist to have a birthday. Neither Seuss nor Descartes nor Sartre are making an evidentialist argument for personal existence. One’s own existence is simply a given, a datum, much like a Plantingian “properly basic belief.” (Note: you have to exist in order to utter the proposition "I have a birthday." Claim-making requires actual existence.)

Which brings us to my favoritest line in the entire book:

 “You have to be born, or you don’t get a present.” 

Taking this line, and using a reductio, I reason:

1. I got presents today.

2. Therefore I was born.

3. Therefore I exist. (From 1 & 2)

The rest of Seuss’s book is a giant celebration of ego-centered, non-relational, narcissistic, entitled, personal, gluttonous existence. At the book’s end I am exhausted and touched, as Seuss writes:

“I am what I am! That's a great thing to be!

If I say so myself, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!"

Now, by Horseback and bird-back and Hiffer-back, too,

Come your friends! All your friends! From all over Katroo!

And the Birthday Pal-alace heats up with hot friends

And your party goes on!

On and on

Till it ends.

When it ends,

You're much happier,

Richer and fatter.

And the Bird flies you home

On a very soft platter.

So that's

What the Birthday Bird

Does in Katroo.

And I wish

I could do

All these great things for you!”

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

All Worldviews Have a Basically "Confessional" Status

(Our backyard)

(I taught Logic for seventeen years at Monroe County Community College.)

In logic we define "worldview as: "the vast web of fundamental ideas that help you make sense of the world." (Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking, 6) We all have a worldview. "Even the rejection of all worldviews is a worldview." (Ib., 49)

Though all have a worldview, few are able to articulate it in the sense of having thought critically about it. It is simply the air a person breathes, the water they indwell.

James K.A. Smith, in his description of a "pentecostal worldview" in Thinking in Tongues, describes "worldview." "A worldview is a passional orientation that governs how one sees, inhabits, and engages the world." (Smith) Smith quotes James Olthuis: "A worldview (or vision of life) is a framework or set of fundamental beliefs though which we view the world and our calling and future in it." (Ib.)

Smith gives five elements of "worldview."
  1. It is a framework of fundamental beliefs. A worldview provides the grid or framework through which we "make sense" of our world - the "set of hinges" on which our thinking and doing turn.
  2. It is a framework of fundamental beliefs. As fundamental, we could say they are pretheoretical. They are often not beliefs that we consciously, rationally reflect upon. They are the "control beliefs" that operate subterraneously. Smith says a worldview operates at the level of imagination, not thinking. (I'm currently reading Smith's Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works.) 
  3. It is a framework of fundamental beliefs. As "ultimate beliefs," worldivews are fundamentally religious in character, shaping the root commitments of individuals and communities. In this sense all of life is religious, even for the atheist.
  4. It provides a view of the world as such. Worldviews are comprehensive, giving us an account of how the big picture hangs together.They help us make sense of the totality of our experience, not just our "religious" experience.
  5. A worldview tells us something about our calling. How we understand our world determines how we understand our roles in it. By determining our calling, worldviews shape our identity by constituting the telos of our being-in-the-world. It defines what matters.
There is no such thing as a "neutral" perspective. Or, as Smith puts it, no such thing as a "secular" perspective, if by "secular" one means neutral and objective. No one operates in life without some faith commitments. Smith writes: "everyone operates on the basis of a worldview, and all worldviews have a basically confessional status."

Monday, April 22, 2024

A Gift for My Pastor-Colleagues in Ministry


Dear Friends in Pastoral Ministry,

Tomorrow, Tuesday, I will go to a quiet place and meet with God. I will pray, anywhere from one to three hours. I have been doing this, on Tuesday afternoons, for 47 years. 

I want you to know that I still take extended praying times, every week. I still keep a spiritual journal. I stlll meditate on Scripture. At the 40-year mark I wrote a book on what I have learned from my praying life: Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. 

My seminary teaching on prayer and spiritual transformation began in 1977, when I taught a course on prayer in Northern Seminary's M.Div. program. Since then I estimate teaching Leadership Praying to 5000 pastors and Christian leaders, at several seminaries, conferences, retreats, and churches, around the world. (My praying wife Linda has accompanied me on many of these trips,)

This week I will be 75 years old. I have a gift for you. It's a Bible verse.

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Luke 5:16

Do this.


This is the foundation of all ministry in Jesus' name.

With love,

John Piippo

Our Ministries Need to Be Crucified


                                                                          (Ann Arbor)

While reading one of Chuck DeGroat's books, he pointed me to a book I was unfamiliar with: The Crucifixion of Ministry, by Andrew Purves. I checked it out, and saw glowing reviews from Stephen Seamands (Asbury), Craig Barnes, and others.

I got my hard copy last week.

Immediately, it has my attention. Here's a quote from the Preface, where Purves describe God-revelation he had while at the beach with his wife.

"Walking on the beach I as suddenly aware tat our attempt to be ministers is major problem. We are in the way. Our strategies, action plans, pastoral resources and entrepreneurial church revitalization techniques have not become the solution but the problem. Our ministries need to be crucified. They need to be killed off.

What if Jesus showed up? That's our only hope. Our people don't need us; they need Jesus. Our job is to bear witness to him, trusting to be the One who forgives, blesses, heals, renews, instructs, and brings life out of death."


Here is the flash point where the Consumer Entertainment Church wars against us.


Friday, April 19, 2024

Honor in the Church


(Weko Beach, Michigan)

Someone in my church family asked me to say some things about "honor." Here are a few ideas.

Honor is respect for other people. This does not mean you agree with everything other people say. Honor is a way of treating other people. Remember that Jesus said "Honor your father and mother." (Matthew 15:4) He does not add, "only if you agree with them about everything." 1 Peter 2:7 says, "Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor." (Even the emperor? Think about it. Do not get your ethics from the media.)

Honor thinks of other people before it thinks of oneself. Romans 12:10 says, "Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves."

Honor dignifies others. Honor does not talk negatively about people behind their back. That's called slander. Or gossip. Slander is saying something about a person behind their back that you would never say to their face.

Honor is different from flattery, which is a type of dishonor. Flattery is saying something to someone's face that you would never say about them behind their back.

Honor does not gripe or complain about other people behind their back. To do that is to take what John Bevere called "the bait of Satan," and dangle Satan's bait before the ears of others.

Honor listens. Honor has "ears to hear."

Honor is a subcategory of love. Love is the great umbrella, beneath which honor is one of love's expressions. Honor is one way of expressing love.

Honor does not enable the transgressions of others. Enabling people in their failure, or in their sin, is dishonoring. 

Dishonor is disrespect. Dishonor disses others; honor elevates others.

Honor is patient to understand before evaluating or judging. Dishonor judges before understanding.  Judging before understanding is the game of fools; understanding before judging is wisdom.

A culture of honor extends to isolated people. Dishonor plays favorites.

Honor-able people treat others according to their true identities, as sons and daughters of God.

Real Church cultivates an honor culture. We may not agree with everything and everyone, but we never dishonor one another.

The Wise Are a Tree of Life


I am in Proverbs chapter 11.

Forget speed-reading Proverbs!

11.30 counsels me. 

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, 
and the one who is wise saves lives.

I write it on a card, to carry with me and guide me through this day. This will be my meditative focus.

Here I am told that my life (yours too) can bear life-giving fruit that will nourish and vitalize others. Even, saving lives.

This is wisdom, which, again, is to be sought after, and stored up in one's heart and mind.

John Walton writes:

"The immediate background of this image is the tree of life in the Garden of Eden (Ge 2). Those who embrace wisdom are like those who embrace the tree of life; i.e., wisdom is the source of life in all its fullness. A symbol commonly referred to as the “tree of life” by modern scholars is well attested in ancient Mesopotamian art, though no textual evidence identifies it as such. It is more appropriate to identify it as a “cosmic tree”— a tree located in the center of the world that links the cosmic realms."

Zondervan,. NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook (Kindle Locations 140525-140529). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

A Call to Anguish

I just listened to this seven-minute clip from David Wilkerson.


Wednesday, April 17, 2024



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.