Friday, April 19, 2024

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.

The Purpose of Church Is Not to "Meet Needs"

(Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan)

"Church" - not a building, but a people movement following after Jesus and His Kingdom.

The purpose of "Church" is to be a corporate people that is being formed into greater and greater Jesus-likeness (see, e.g., Galatians 4:19).

As "Church" what we place our focus on is important. For example, the purpose of Church, the Church's raison d-etre, is not: to meet people's needs. James van Yperan writes: "A church organized around meeting needs breeds selfishness, and it inevitably leads to competition, control, and conflict." (Van Yperen, Making Peace: A Guide to Overcoming Church Conflict, p. 35)

When church people start talking about their needs not being met, we have a big problem rooted in a false, unbiblical idea of "church." James 4:1-3 expresses this.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? 
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 
You desire but do not have, so you kill. 
You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. 
You do not have because you do not ask God. 
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, 
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
If, in church, I don't get my needs met (= what I want for me), then fighting for my rights follows. 
OK. But what about my needs? Do they mean nothing? Of course not. But I must distinguish my true needs from my wants and desires. Then, I am to abide in Jesus, the One who meets my deepest needs. 
All I need is found in Christ. That is my experience. I'm not looking for Church to meet my needs. I am looking to God to meet my needs. I arrive at church on a Sunday morning with my needs already being met. And often, my needs are met through the church (the people of God).
"Church" is God's vehicle for bringing redemption to others. The early Acts-Church was not following after Jesus for the sake of having their needs met. They were on a Mission. They were being morphed out of the world-system and into Christ and His beautiful Kingdom. And in the process the secondary effect happened of having their truest, deepest needs satisfied.

Van Yperan writes:

"Is your church actually encouraging people to think and act like the world? Are you forming believers who are not a “people”? The church is the spiritual “place” where God forms His people. We are chosen to be people who are being transformed into Christlikeness. The problem is that we have become so accustomed to thinking and acting like individuals we cannot even see or accept that we are forming selfishness, not godliness—until a conflict or crisis arises. God has called us into a kingdom much greater than our selfish needs, dull familiarity, and easy assumptions. Scripture stands in stark contrast to the narcissistic and autonomous thinking of our self-absorbed world. God wants to remake and redeem our needs before He meets them. He calls us into a culture formed by the Cross." (Ib., 36)

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Marriage Counseling Material

My wildflower garden

A friend asked this question: "Do you have any marriage counseling material that you can share with me?"

Here are some things we recommend. 


I use the FOCCUS materials for marital and premarital counseling. - This is Gary Chapman's excellent website.


Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Got Married, by Gary Chapman

Linda and I read this after almost 40 years of marriage and still enjoyed it.

One More Try: What to Do When Your Marriage is Falling Apart, by Gary Chapman. 
Marital and premarital couples will benefit from this excellent book.

Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling: A Guide to Brief Therapy, by Everett Worthington   

Linda and are reading this book together. It's more academic, and for marital counselors. Very good!

Torn Asunder: Recovering From an Extramarital Affair, by Dave Carder

This is the book Linda and I recommend for people who have experienced this.

Caring enough to Confront: How to Understand and Express Your Deepest Feelings Toward Others, by David Augsburger

Linda and I have used this book so much in marital and relationship counseling that we should be getting royalties from it. On how to communicate in the midst of conflict.

The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love, by Robert Enright

For Linda and I the key to a healthy marriage is: confession and forgiveness. In this book University of Wisconsin psychologist Enright shows us the relational power of forgiveness, in stories and empirical research.

The Mystery of Marriage, by Mike Mason

The most beautiful exaltation of marriage ever written?

I Married You, and I Loved a Girl, by Walter Trobisch

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Counsel of the Ungodly

Image result for john piippo

Years ago I used to frequent a small coffee shop. I would take a book, my journal, a cup of java, and read and write.

One day the county atheist society was sitting a few tables away from me. Three atheists were there. I was around a corner, with my back to them. I couldn't see them, but I knew the leader. He had challenged me in the local newspaper. He said, "No pastor would dare meet with me!" I responded in the newspaper with my phone number, and a request for him to call.

He did. We met. For two hours. The time was spent trying to help him understand what he was trying to say. I helped him clarify his arguments against Christianity. Then, I showed him where he was wrong. Gently, I hope.

There used to be a group of older men who regularly met in the café. I could hear their lively discussions. A couple of the men were loud, confident they understood the deeper recesses of politics, economics, religion, whatever. They were experts on every subject, so much so they didn't need to google anything. Or footnote anyone. It seemed to me that no one around that table had a clue of what they were talking about, at least when it came to these matters. I found their counsel uninspiring.

Psalm 1:1 states:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
    Nor stands in the path of sinners,
    Nor sits in the seat of the scornful...

In the little atheist group, and the global wisdom of the old men, we see the "counsel of the ungodly." You find such counsel in churches, too. Like, e.g., when some Christians once watched a movie and told me, "If we build it, he will come."

The counsel of the ungodly is not someone encouraging me to smoke cigarettes, or watch "The Bachelorette." The counsel of the ungodly is, says Dallas Willard, "just the way most people talk." (Willard, Living in Christ's Presence, p. 46)

Willard gives examples.

"The counsel of the ungodly is “Live as if it matters what people think of you.”

The counsel of the ungodly is “Live as if the outcomes of your life are on your shoulders and you control them.”

The counsel of the ungodly is “Live as if aging is something to worry about.”

The counsel of the ungodly is “Live as if satisfying your desires and appetites is central to your well-being and a wise strategy for living.

That's the counsel of the ungodly. It goes on all the time, and we rarely even see it." (Ib.)

Willard writes, "Just listen to the conversations we have with each other, and that’s the counsel of the ungodly." (Ib., p. 47)

What, then, is wise, godly counsel? Psalm 1 continues,

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,    
and in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
    planted by the rivers of water,
    that brings forth its fruit in its season,
    Whose leaf also shall not wither;
and whatever he does shall prosper.

Willard writes: "There’s a decision that everybody faces, and part of the danger of the world is it causes us to forget that we have to decide who we are going to learn to live from." (Ib., p. 48)

Halvor Ronning - Psalm 23 - Paths of righteousness

Here is my friend Hal Ronning sharing background information needed to understand Psalm 23. Hal was our tour guide when Linda and I were in Israel. What a blessing that was! Hal and his wife Mirja are great biblical scholars and head the Home for Bible Translators in Jerusalem. Hal also has been to Redeemer to speak and teach.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Abortion - I am Pro-Life and Pro-Choice


                                             (Crossing Lake Michigan on The Badger)

When it comes to abortion, I am Pro-Life.

I believe that the conceptus/embryo/fetus is human life. It's human life that is innocent. It's human life that is defenseless. I believe it is morally wrong to kill an innocent, defenseless, human life. I am Pro-Life. 

When it comes to abortion, I am Pro-Choice.

The abortionist movement believes the mother has the moral right to choose to kill an innocent, defenseless human being. But this ignores the inborn human life, and their freedom to choose.

I believe the inborn human life has a right to choose. If anyone has the right to choose, it ought to be the human that is about to be executed.  Therefore, I am Pro-Choice.

But isn't a conceptus/embryo/fetus cognitively incapable of making any choice? Correct. But a newborn baby is also cognitively incapable of making any choice. The inability to make a choice for life, or for death, is not cognitively accessible to a human life until they are...  how old? 

I believe the following reasoning fails.

1. The conceptus/embryo/fetus is incapable of making choices.

2. Therefore, it is not immoral to make the choice for them, and terminate them. 

This argument morally fails because it would include infanticide. (*See, e.g., the debates surrounding atheist Peter Singer's beliefs about the morality of involuntary euthanasia, where Singer makes an arguably false distinction between "person" and "human life.") 

I believe it is morally right to wait until a human life can exercise its own right to choose between life or death. Why not give them the choice of whether they want to live or not? Upon meeting a person struggling with this choice, a vast majority of counselors and pastors will help the person choose life. But once more, that will be their choice.

I am bringing the word 'choice' back into the Pro-Life camp. The life-or-death choice belongs to the inborn human life. That's how it should be.

I would counsel them to choose life, and walk with them on the road that leads to life

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you 

that I have set before you life and death, 

blessings and curses. 

Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.

Deut, 30:19

In this regard, I am Pro-Choice as well as Pro-Life.


*See HERE, e.g.

Friday, April 12, 2024

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 sequoia. 

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

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Forgiving Others - Three Stages


What is forgiveness? Lewis Smedes, in his paradigm-changing book Forgive and Forget, stages the process of forgiveness this way.

1) You surrender the right to get even with the person who wronged you.

You will no longer engage in ways of making them pay for how they wounded you.

You give whatever justice should be exacted over to God.

You let it go.

2) You reinterpret the person who wronged you in a larger format.

You begin to see the person as God sees them. 

This helps us avoid creating a "caricature" of the person who wounded us. "In the act of forgiving, we get a new picture of a needy, weak, complicated, fallible human being like ourselves."

We begin to see that we are "that kind of people" too, not in the details, but in the heart.

As you begin to view the person who hurt you this way, forgiveness is taking root in you.

Forgiveness will be securely planted in you when you experience stage three, as a matter of your heart.

3) You develop a gradual desire for the welfare of the person who wounded you.

At this stage you are like Jesus, who loved us even as we were his enemies and wounded him on the cross.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Consciousness Presents a Problem for Scientific Naturalism

(The River Raisin, in our backyard)

A "recalcitrant fact," writes J.P. Moreland, is a stubborn fact that doggedly resists explanation by a theory. "No matter what a theory's advocate does, the recalcitrant fact just sits there and is not easily incorprated into the theory. In this case, the recalcitrant fact provides falsifying evidence for the theory and some degree of confirmation for its rivals." (J.P. Moreland, "The Image of God and the Failure of Scientific Atheism," in God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible, 33)

A stubborn fact that keeps holding on, for scientific naturalism, is the nature of human persons. In this regard Berkeley philosopher John Searle writes:

"There is exactly one overriding question in contemporary philosophy... How do we fit in?... How can we square this self-conception of ourselves as mindful, meaning-creating, free, rational, etc., agents with a universe that consists entirely of mindless, meaningless, unfree, nonrational, brute physical particles?" (In Ib., 34)

Moreland answers: "For the scientific naturalist, the answer is "Not very well." (Ib.)

In fact, it was this recalcitrant fact, among other things, that led the famous philosopher-atheist Antony Flew to turn to theism. Flew writes:

"The rationality [consciousness, freedom of the will and unified self] that we unmistakably experience - ranging from the laws of nature to our capacity for rational thought - cannot be explained if it does not have an ultimate ground, which can be nothing less than an infinite mind." (In Ib.)

Consciousness presents a problem for scientific naturalism.

See Moreland's two books on this for more detailed reasoning:

The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism

Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument

Other blog posts on consciousness I have made...