The Holy Spirit & and an Orthodox Priest

I’m with about 40 members of our church at our annual renewal conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin this week. Holly Benner is leading worship, with myself, my wife Linda, David Reaume, and Trevor Robinson being the rest of the team. Charlie and Michael Hammill are doing the sound system, and Lisa Dubois is doing the AV system (words to the songs).

There are over 500 people at this conference, and they are from all over the place. Kris Valotten & Danny Silk from Bill Johnson’s church has been doing a great job teaching and preaching.

Some people from Texas drove all the way to be with us just to hear Kris and Danny preach and teach.

On another note: An Orthodox priest who has recently discovered the empowering presence of God’s Holy Spirit is here. Last night he was asking God for help. I got to pray with him. He and I traded phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and we will be talking together – hopefully a lot.

We are all having a tremendous week of renewal and empowerment and learning!

Last night I, Josh Bentley, and Holly told the people about our coming Redeemer Ministry School. We brought fliers to hand out, esp. to pastors and to any youth and young adults interested in spending a year with us beginning in Sept. 2008.

I will speak at the Friday morning session.

Then, back to Monroe next week!

In Wisconsin at a Conference

 

I’m in Green Lake, Wisconsin this week speaking and teaching at a conference with Kris Valotten and Danny Silk from Bill Johnson’s Bethel Redding (California) church.

A number of people from my church in Monroe are here with us. We are having a great time! I hope to get back in sync re. blogging next week.

Here’s Linda getting some R&R at Green Lake.

 

John Tyner

In 1992 my family moved from East Lansing to Monroe. While we felt God calling us here, one of the things that saddened us about leaving East Lansing was that we were in the Okemos School District which, in our minds, had many excellent things going for it, to include the arts. We were especially saddened for our older son Dan, whose loves were music and drama.

Then we found out, to our delight, that the music program in the Monroe School District FAR surpassed what we had seen in Okemos. The catalyst and visionary for this was, of course, John Tyner. Dan got involved in the Monroe Music system, and we felt very, very blessed. When Dan went to MHS he sang in the choirs, plus Tyner’s “Generations” group. We attended some of the incredible Madrigal Dinners. Dan was one of many Tyner students who qualified for State Honors Choir. Twice our family made the trip to Hill Auditorium at U-M to see the best of high school singers under some great directors. And, we saw Mr. Tyner especially honored there. The MHS music program was state-recognized for its excellence.

Once we made a trip back to Okemos and saw their choir sing a few numbers. I don’t mean to degrade them, but it was like watching a very average choir compared to Tyner’s college-level presentation. Tyner taught his students technically tough stuff. Here before us was an actual teacher, who imparted much to his students even beyond musical things.

I was thankful Tyner introduced his students to many religious pieces. But this is inevitable if one teaches the history of choral music. Even the atheist Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, says how much he enjoys the musical brilliance of Bach and Handel. And not once have I ever heard from a Tyner protégé in my church that he was preachy about religion.

I am stunned that he has left MCCC. I appeal to the administration to meet with John and work this thing out in a way that places trust in his judgments. And if someone throws a lawsuit at MCCC for this I expect nearly the entire Monroe community to stand against it.

The Two Worldviews of Monroe County


Next week I will speak at a conference in Wisconsin on the subject “Worldviews and One’s Experience of the Supernatural.” I love thinking and talking with others about this subject. I also find that my MCCC philosophy students are very interested in this, whether they are theists or philosophical naturalists.
 

Everyone in Monroe County, and in the world for that matter, has a worldview. Worldviews act somewhat like eye glasses or contact lenses. That is, a worldview should provide the correct “prescription” for making sense of the world just as wearing the correct prescription for your eyes brings things into focus. N.T. Wright says worldviews are “the basic stuff of human existence, the lens through which the world is seen, the blueprint for how one should live in it and above all the sense of identity and place which enables human beings to be what they are.”
 

Two worldviews predominate in Monroe County: Theism and Philosophical Naturalism. Depending on which lens you look through you will interpret the world in certain ways. This is how I see it after teaching philosophy at MCCC for the past seven years.

Theism is the majority worldview of my MCCC students. A Theist looks at the world as the creation of God. Monroe County Theists can be divided into two types: 1) Supernaturalistic Theists, and 2) Deists. Supernaturalistic Theists believe God is active today in the sense of responding to our prayers, healing people, doing miracles, and so on. Deists believe there is a God, but God is not involved in the lives of people. (Richard Dawkins-type atheists dismiss #2 as irrelevant and focus their attention on #1.)
 

Philosophical Naturalism is a minority but growing worldview of my MCCC students. This worldview says that “nature” is all that there is, and there are no “supernatural” realities. There are two kinds of Philosophical Naturalism: 1) Agnostics. When asked “Is there a God? they respond, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure;” 2) Atheists. They claim: God does not exist.

(And, FYI, in Monroe County there are a few Neopagans (Wiccans), a few Pantheists (Hinduism), and a few Philosophical Monists (Buddhism).)
 

Whatever their worldview, most of my students are not able to give reasons to support it. But nearly all are very interested in the subject and want to talk about it. I find there is a great need for religious and philosophical dialogue out there, and I see this when I teach college students.
 

I also see, among Monroe County’s young people, a significant number who are disenchanted with “the church,” especially when what they see in the church resembles American materialism and parental “Boomer spirituality”  more than it does the actual teachings of Jesus. This disenchantment causes some of them to shift worldviews. Some leave the church because they intuitively feel that the church is really no different from the world, and that “Christianity” has become equated with American materialism. They find “church” irrelevant and boring. Which is sad, because the Real Jesus is anything but boring, being totally revolutionary and radical. Sad also, because we have a lot of churches in the Monroe area that are after the real thing. (Note: Muslim countries like Turkey and Taoist countries like Singapore both make the following equation: “Christianity” = “American values.”) I have over the years talked personally with many college students and young people about this. My answer to them is: the Real Jesus comes to bring in his beautiful Kingdom, which is “not of this world.” Read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to discover this.
 

I worked with college students and professors for eleven years as a campus pastor at Michigan State University. One day I was told about a very vocal campus atheist who wanted to talk with me. When I met with him I asked, “Why don’t you believe there is a God?” He said, “Because I was raised in a church and the people in that church hurt me and my family.” His reasons for embracing atheism were far more personal than philosophical. This caused him to change worldviews. I have heard this story many times. My response was to not only say I was sorry for what happened to him, but to tell him that God is love, and then do my best to love him by listening and understanding.

If you are interested in something more in-depth about worldviews I will be teaching a course dealing with these things at my church (Redeemer Fellowship) on four Sunday nights in August, and would love to have you there – irregardless of your worldview.

Freedom from Addiction to Prescription Drugs

There are a lot of addicts in Monroe and, for that matter, in America. I am constantly involved in the lives of people who are struggling with addictions. I break these addicts down into four categories.
1 – Some of them are in denial as regards their problem, and I try to enter into their lives, gain trust, and help them see they are an addict and utter the words, “I am an addict and I need help.”
2 – Others acknowledge they are an addict, but feel they can get themselves out of their addiction by themselves, as if they are skilled in addiction treatment. This never works.
3 – Then there is the addict who escapes the prison cell of denial, gets help, to include a support system of accountability, and begins to break free. This usually takes a long time.
4 – Finally there is, as Gerald May says in his brilliant and helpful book Addiction and Grace, the addict who breaks free all of a sudden and for no good medical reason. That, says May, is the grace of God. (Note: I read May’s book years ago and it helped me very much. Also, I was pleased to see that John Eldridge recommends it in The Sacred Romance.)

Serious addictions are on the increase. For example, the availability of pornography is helping create a nation of porn addicts. And, the ease with which doctors hand out prescriptions for addictive medications without seeming concern for underlying systemic issues and their deep treatment is on the rise. From my own small world in my cultural context here in Monroe I have heard of this happening, and it greatly concerns me.
 

Greg Critser’s recent book Generation Rx confirms my fears. The book was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. Here are a few quotes from the review, which can be read in full here.

“Generation Rx” contends that large drug companies have co-opted the federal government, seduced the medical establishment and mesmerized a temperamentally supine public into taking far more drugs than is strictly necessary, much less healthy. Worse, Americans have fallen victim to “polypharmacy”: using so many drugs for so many ailments that they have no idea how the various medications are interacting.
Nevertheless, this is not the work of a conspiracy theorist. The public, particularly “the Tribe of High-Performance Aging,” genuinely adores Viagra, Zoloft, Paxil and Prozac, believing that they vastly improve one’s quality of life. As in his previous book, “Fat Land,” Critser says the public has been complicitous in its own seduction. Gleefully voting with their tongues, Americans use drugs to combat depression (Paxil, Prozac), reduce the ruckus from the kids (Ritalin), make bedtime more like a night in the seraglio (Viagra) and turn the workplace into a hearty party (Vicodin).” 
 

Critser says that prescription drugs are being viewed as the “New Healers.” Instead of dependency on God, we have prescription drug dependency. Of course we can thank God for a variety of medications. The issue is not their existence but addiction to them. And addiction, if you have never seen it, is a Destroyer of the inner life, marriage and family, and whatever else stands in its way.
 

I have personally seen many people break free from a variety of addictions. I’ve seen it happen with a combination of appropriate medications, counseling, and prayer. I’ve also seen many people instantly go free, as Gerald May says, by the grace of God.  I am one of those. Many years ago I was doing illegal drugs almost every day. Then, I made a decision to leave that stuff behind and follow Jesus. The drugs stopped and have never returned. I deserve no credit for this, and give all the credit to the power and love of God.
 

What does God think of addicts? The answer is: God loves them. God wants to help them and is able to do so. When the chains of addiction finally drop away the words of the Real Jesus in Luke 4:18-19 get experienced:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
      because he has anointed me
      to preach good news to the poor.
   He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
   to release the oppressed,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Wedding & a Thank-You

Today I have a daughter-in-law. Yesterday I married my son Dan to Allie. Linda and I feel so blessed. We are also so tired.

Thank you to my church. Thanks to our great and many friends at Redeemer Fellowship Church. Our hearts are overflowing with gratitude. So many of you have been a part of helping us with this wedding for many weeks. You have worked so hard and joyfully, with servants’ hearts. So many of you came yesterday. Thank you. We love you all so much!

Dan & Allie

wedding tent dinner

 

Tomorrow My Son Gets Married

I have three sons – Daniel, Joshua, and David (who was stillborn). Daniel is getting married tomorrow. I will be doing the service.

Dan met Allie in Istanbul, Turkey, where they were both serving as Christian missionaries with Campus Crusade for Christ. I first met Allie when Linda, Josh and I visited Istanbul in Dec. 2005.

Dan graduated from MSU; Allie graduated from U-M. In their academic allegiances they are divided, but Dan and Allie share this: Jesus is their first love. As much as they had hoped to one day be married, I know for a fact that each would have forgone marriage if they felt that was what God wanted. I deeply admire them for that.

I love doing weddings. For me, they are always opportunities for God to speak to us all about life’s most important things. Many years ago I set my life priorities as follows:

1. God – loving him and advancing his kingdom

2. Linda – loving her as Christ loved the church and gave his life for her

3. My sons – loving them in many ways, to include turning down extra opportunities to make more income so I could raise them together with Linda and play with them, teach them, read to them, travel with them, pray with them…

4. In fourth place is: my “job” as a pastor, and my church

Way below the top 4 are things like my golf game, which suffered a tremendous blow when I met Linda 35 years ago.

I’m going to be emotional tomorrow. Even as I am writing this Linda and Dan are listening to that Andrea Bocelli song they will dance to. It’s not an easy thing, since the tears are flowing generously out of Linda’s eyes and I, being of strong Finnish descent, succeed in controlling the watery emotions inside. When they dance to this song I’ll probably need someone to pick me up off the ground.

My deep prayer is that they have a long, monogamous life together. There are so many character-builders and joys in a long life spent together. Such marriages become like iron sharpening iron. You get to know and be known by just one person – so intimately and authentically and transparently. You can’t get this by the essentially non-covenantal act of co-habiting, nor can you get it by the unanchored life of serial monogamy.

Dan and Allie – Linda and I will be with you tomorrow to gladly bless your covenant marriage. We love you.

(Here they are in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.)

 

Dan & Allie in Istanbul (Blue Mosque)

Joy Transcends Earthly Happiness

A few years before my father died he gave his tools to my brother Mike and I. My dad was someone who could fix nearly anything. And, when something needed fixing, he had a lot of patience as he slowly analyzed the situation. Now I have half his tools with less than half of his ability. I do not inwardly experience what dad did when faced with a mechanical problem. I do not feel the inner workings of his mind. I do not have his patience and confidence. Thus, in this area, I do not personally relate to much of what my father experienced. If only he could have given me not only his tools but also his heart and mind!

There are things God wants to give us that are nothing less than His own heart and mind. One such thing is His joy. What do you think God experiences when He has joy? What goes on in His heart and mind? Surely, whatever it is, it transcends earthly pleasure and happiness. If only God could give us His joy! The truth is that He can. And He does. Jesus said, in John 15:11, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” You and I can have the joy of Jesus. This means we can experience what He experiences in His spirit when He rejoices. Something of God’s inner workings are imparted, given, to us. (See also John 17:13) Nothing less than the same joy Jesus knows is known by us. What is such joy like?

C.S. Lewis’s autobiography was called Surprised By Joy. What Lewis experienced as joy could not be expressed in common words, so he found an uncommon word to attempt to describe it. Lewis used a German word, sehnsucht, to convey the meaning of joy. Sehnsucht means “longing.” What does this mean? Let me explain it this way.

Christian joy is a fruit that is produced from the tree of hope. Christian hope comes from the promises of God. Hope is the eager expectation of better things to come (Hebrews 6:9-11). As a child there were times when my parents gave me a promise of a future event, like a vacation, that filled me with joy. There was, for me, more joy in the longing for the promised thing than there was in things I already possessed. J. I. Packer writes: “Joy is a recurring stab of longing that nothing in this world will satisfy. It is a desire for God and heaven that God himself has built into the human race, though many of us in our fallenness fail to grasp its message. Lewis called it ‘joy’ because in the longing, itself, there is greater delight than in any of this world’s pleasures.”

The joy of Jesus is not of this world. Nothing in this world will give us this joy. Only Jesus can. That this joy is truly other-worldly is evidenced by the fact that it not only endures in the midst of suffering, it even flourishes. Paul, in Romans 5:3, writes what seems like an oxymoron: “We rejoice in our sufferings.” Paul again, in 1 Thessalonians 1:6, writes: “You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” And in 2 Corinthians 8:2 Paul commends the Macedonian Christians who, in the middle of “a severe test of affliction,” overflowed with joy. Happiness comes and goes with life’s circumstances. Christian joy grows in all circumstances. How is this possible?

It is possible if Jesus gives us His joy. Hebrews 12:2 reads, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our 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.” Here are two things you can do to enter into the joy of the Lord: 1) meditate on the eternal, unchanging promises of God that grow the tree of hope; and 2) cry out to God to produce the fruit of His joy in your heart.

The Meaning of Life & One More Bubble Tea for the Road

I’m sitting on the back porch of my home here in Monroe listening to the birds and feeling the quiet. It’s a long cultural distance from Monroe to New York City, and I can feel the effects today. Yesterday morning I spoke at the 12th graduation of Faith Bible Seminary in Queens, NYC. Here are some of the things I told the graduates and the people there.

In my philosophy classes at MCCC I love to have students stay after and talk, ask questions, and dialogue. Last semester one student stayed after and told me what his hopes in life were. He said, “I don’t think I believe in God, but I want to make in impact in my life. I want to leave a “legacy” of my accomplishments.” I told him, “I hate to disappoint you, but no one is going to remember you after you die. Minutes after your body is lowered into the grave the people will be talking about the fried chicken and cheesy potatoes at the dinner given in your “remembrance.”” Months and years later you will be a mostly forgotten thing. And whatever degrees you have earned will be stored in some attic if not already disposed of. Living people just really do not think much about the deceased. I am not now talking about a loving spouse or child or parent. In some cases people say “There’s never a day that doesn’t go by when I don’t think of _____.” I know that’s true for some. But when they die, you’ll be a forgotten thing.

I think life is like this. Years ago I was speaking at a conference in New Jersey at a retreat center located on the Atlantic Ocean beach. It was winter, but during a break I walked the beach anyway. No one else was out walking, and I headed north for about a mile, leaving only my footprints in the sand. When I turned back, my footprints were already disappearing. At the point where I began walking the waves had already washed away my presence. And that’s how it is with any “marks” we think we’ll leave in this life after we die.

Frankly, I think it’s foolish to try to make some personal ego-statement in life. If I were an atheist, I would know that to be true. So what, then, is the point of it all? For me, the point is to leave behind people who have been deeply impacted, not by moi, but by God.

These things being said, I challenged the graduates to be free from trying to impress people with their own lives and live so as to be used by God to bring people into His Kingdom. If there’s no God then life is, as Bertrand Russell wrote, a sea of “unyielding despair.” But if God is real, then this life is all about God. We were created by God and for God and are destined to live forever with God. Put in another way, Jesus once told a crowd of people that they should not live this life working for “food that spoils” but work for “food that endures.”

As I said these things I felt very passionate about them. I prayed that these people would live their lives entirely for God and bringing in God’s Kingdom and not for the advancement of their own little ephemeral kingdoms and queendoms.

When John Hao and his wife Rosie and their incredible office manager Jen took me to the airport they asked me if I wanted just one more bubble tea. “It’s the very best bubble tea in the area, made from the very best tea.” So we stopped for one more round of this sweet drink, and I report that it was the very best bubble tea I have ever drank in my entire life.

Faith Bible Seminary Grads

Faith Bible Seminary grads

Bubble Tea

I Ate a Snail Today

I ate a snail on this, my last day of teaching at Faith Bible Seminary, a Chinese seminary in New York City. The church FBS is affiliated with is, according to the New York Times, the largest Chinese church in the city of New York. Faith Bible Church is a center of activity throughout the day. This church functions as a hub, like Detroit Metro functions as a Northwest Airlines hub. A lot of NYC Chinese churches look to this church and to this seminary to train and equip their people for serving Jesus Christ in ministry. There are a lot of people coming and going through the main office of this place all day long and into every evening of the week.

The pastor, John Hao, is a man of great vision. John has already started churches and seminaries around the world. The newest seminary connection is in Vancouver. Some of his pastoral staff came back from a trip to Africa last week, attended my class this week, and are going to China next week. God has given John a vision to start 20 new Chinese churches around the world in the next five years. I hope to be doing some things with John in regard to this. At the end of this day I sat with John in his office and we prayed together. He prayed for me, and I prayed for him, and we prayed for us. John and I feel that God has connected us together for, as the book of Esther says, “such a time as this.” And this creates a really neat link for me between New York City and Monroe. God told me one very clear thing about all of this today. It’s that my Monroe church family is a real part of this. A church family is like a human body. I’m just a body part of my church being extended to this wonderful church in New York City. And by “my church” I mean both my particular church family as well as many other Real Jesus-Followers in Monroe, like the amazing Christians of Godworks Soup Kitchen, and friends I have in other Monroe churches. The truth is, we never do things like this alone. Not really.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be picked up at my hotel at 10 AM, and taken one more time to the church. There I will speak at the commencement cerremony for the current seminary graduates. Then, on a plane and back to Monroe (flight time about 80 minutes). I’ll be so glad to see Linda and my family. There will be a lot to do next week, especially since my son Dan is getting married to a wonderful girl named Allie on June 16. I may ask them if, for the reception, we could have snails and bubble tea.

A snail et. al.

 

 Faith Bible Church (future)