The Spiritual Exercise of Remembering

The Spiritual Exercise of Remembering

Linda & I, on our wedding day

Linda’s mother suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for many years. This horrible illness caused her to slowly lose her memory. One result of her memory loss was an increase of fear. For example, one afternoon Linda, her mother Martha, her father Del, and I were shopping in a mall. At one point Linda and her father left for an hour to shop together while I stayed with Martha. We sat together for a minute and then she looked at me, her eyes filled with fear, and said “Where’s Del?!” “He’s shopping with Linda. He’ll be right back,” I responded. This put Martha at ease. But only for a few minutes. Forgetting what I had just said, Martha looked at me again and said, “Where’s Del?” “He’s with Linda. He’ll be right back.” This happened several times in an hour, with Martha forgetting, me reminding her, she again calming down, then forgetting and filled with fear, asking me “Where’s Del?” and me reminding her again. Martha not only had forgotten what I said to her, but she had forgotten a more basic truth, which was: in Del she had a husband who would never, ever leave her or forsake her. He was always by her side, pre-Alzheimer’s and post-Alzheimer’s.

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

The antidote to this is: remembering. “Remembering” is huge in the Old Testament. The post-Exodus experience of Israel is grounded in remembering. The Jewish festivals are remembering-events, such as Passover when the head of the household sits with his family and asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In response they then remember the past, and how God delivered their people out of bondage in Egypt. This remembering, which reminds them of God’s past faithfulness, brings new hope.

My spiritual journal functions largely as the memory of the voice and deeds of God in my life. I take times every year to re-ponder my journals. In doing so I remember what God has done for me, how he has delivered me from bondage, and how he answered my many prayers. I re-read of past times when I was afraid, or worried, and then re-read how God came through and worry dissipated. In this way I do not, I will not, forget the deeds of the Lord. The result is that I always emerge from the discipline of remembering with renewed hope in the present.

Kenya On My Mind

I am “thinking Kenya” this morning. I’ll arrive in Nairobi Oct. 21, stay there a few days, then travel west to Eldoret and the Rift Valley. There I’ll be speaking and teaching at a pastor’s conference for leaders from Kenya and Uganda.

This week I’m getting vaccinations for yellow fever, polio, hepatitis A & B, + anti-malarial medication to take with me.

I’m reading about Kenya – using Lonely Planet’s guide. It’s very good, and puts me in a mood of excitement. What a beautiful, amazing country Kenya is!

Eldoret is home and training area to Kenya’s famous and elite long-distance runners. (Remember Kip Keino?)

The currency in Kenya is the shilling. One American dolar equals approximately 80 shillings.

I read the Daily Nation, Nairobi’s newspaper. In today’s DN there’s an interesting article called “The Top 25 African Writers.” At the head of the article there’s a picture of Kenya’s most famous writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o. I just ordered Thiong’o’s Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. Having done Ph.D work in linguistic semantics and neurolinguistics I will probably agree with Thiong’o’s thesis that when, in a colonialist act, a foreign language is imposed on indigenous people, there is more going on here than learning a new language. With the new foreign language comes an entire history and power structure. So, the imposition is great, and devastating to a culture. Needed: decolonizing the African (and Kenyan) mind.

17 hours from take-off in Detroit to touchdown in Nairobi. Not bad when compared to the 25-hour trip to Bangkok a year ago.

The Non-boring, Amazing Jesus

Tree in Monroe

 It was 1990. I was teaching at a theological seminary in Singapore. Albert Kang, one of the leaders of the seminary, was sitting with me at a “steamboat” luncheon (aka “hot pot”), when he leaned towards me and said words that have never left me: “The Church is a movement, not an institution.” Oh yeah. That’s right!

“Church” is not about committees arguing over whether to carpet the sanctuary and, if so, what kind and color the carpet should be. Real “Church” is not about maintenance. Jesus did not come to maintain the status quo. Real “Church” moves and flows, led by the Holy Spirit, changing direction as the Spirit guides. “Institutional” churches are dying precisely because they are that; viz., “instutional.” 40 years ago I signed up for a Movement, not an Institution. As far as I can tell I’m still in the Jesus Movement, the now-moving of God’s Spirit, and it is exhilarating!

None of the original 12 ever complained that following Jesus was boring. They did complain of other things, but never that. The thought “What is He doing now?!” did often come into their minds. Re. “boredom”: “boredom” is not having nothing to do; “boredom” is finding no meaning in what one is doing. A Christian could be on every church committee there is and be very bored with it all, as well as very burned-out-spiritually-deep-fried-to-a-crisp.

I like what one 35-year-old Jesus-follower from California said re. this: “Christians have become political, judgmental, intolerant, weak, religious, angry, and without balance. Christianity has become a nice Sunday drive. Where is the living God, the Holy Spirit, an amazing Jesus, the love, the compassion, the holiness? This type of life, how I yearn for that.” (In David Kinnaman, unchristian, 35)

Me too. Put down the books about Jesus and return to the Big 4 – Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John, and you’ll have a Barthian epiphany as the strange new world of Jesus opens up before you.

Abiding 101

La Jolla, California
Henri Nouwen writes:

“When we are anxious we are inclined to overprepare. We wonder what to say when we are attacked, how to respond when we are being interrogated, and what defence to put up when we are accused. It is precisely this turmoil that makes us lose our self-confidence and creates in us a debilitating self-consciousness.

Jesus tells us not to prepare at all and to trust that he will give us the words and wisdom we need. What is important is not that we have a little speech ready but that we remain deeply anchored in the love of Jesus, secure about who we are in this world and why we are here. With our hearts connected to the heart of Jesus, we will always know what to say when the time to speak comes.”

The idea is (again): abide in Jesus.

Several months ago some students from a local high school visited our church. Afterwards they interviewed me for the school project they were doing. The first question they asked me was: “As a pastor, what is the #1 thing you need to do for your people?” My answer was, and still is: “The #1 thing I need to do for my people is to abide in Christ.” I need to stay connected. I need to be a branch, attached to Jesus the True Vine. I need to be tight with Jesus, and allow him to pour his resources of joy and love and peace and truth into my spirit. To not do this is scary and creepy, because it leaves me alone and on my own “doing ministry” disconnected from God. Would you want to hear someone speak who admitted to this?

Abide in Jesus today. Do it again tomorrow. The instruction manual for Abiding 101 is found in John chapters 14-16

5 Questions for Stephen Hawking

On his website William Lane Craig has a podcast responding to Stephen Hawking’s new book (The Grand Design [GD]) in which Hawking claims that the God hypothesis is unnecessary to explain the origin of the universe. Bill says:

  • He doesn’t (at the time) yet have Hawking’s book, so it would not be fair to comment on something he has not read.
  • From the media presentations of Hawking’s book it appears Hawking says nothing new in this book that he has not already said in his best-seller A Brief History of Time. (BHT)
  • In BHT Hawking claimed that modern science allows no place for a creator of the universe. In BHT Hawking used quantum gravity to explain how the universe came into being from nothing. Then, he uses the many-worlds hypothesis (multiverse theory) in order to explain away the fine-tuning of the universe.
  • Bill encourages us to first read his book Reasonable Faith where he interacts with Hawking’s BHT. 
  • In light of that ask the following questions as you look at Hawking’s GD.
  • #1 – What new developments, what new theories, are featured in Hawking’s new book? If there’s nothing new in GD that’s OK. The question then to ask is: How has Hawking responded to criticisms of his earlier work? There have been many responses, in the literature, to Hawking’s earlier claims. Does he now, in GD, respond to those criticisms, and if so, how?
  • #2 – “With respect to the clai that the universe cae into being spontaneously from nothing, Professor Hawking writes, in the Wall Street Journal article: “As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” What we need to ask Priofessor Hawking is: How is the word ‘nothing’ being used in these sentences?” Does he mean literally “nothing” in the sense of non-being? If he is using “nothing” in this metaphysically correct sense, then he needs to explain how “being” can arise from “non-being.” Bill says: “If there is truly non-being, there is no quantum gravity; there’s nothingness, and nothingness cannot be contrained because nothingness isn’t something – it is non-being.” Why, then, should a universe such as ours pop into existence from “nothing?” Why not “root bear,” or “Beethoven?” If Hawking is using “nothing” in this philosopically correct sense, then his statement “the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear” is, on the face of it, self-contradictory. Hawking must be claiming that there is some sort of “quantum state” exists, out of which our universe came. If so, then Hawking is using the word “nothing” to refer to this quantum state. But then there is “something,” and Hawking has not explained the origin of the universe from “nothng.”
  • Hawking writes: “Our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws. That multiverse idea is not a notion invented to account for the miracle of fine tuning. It is a consequence predicted by many theories in modern cosmology. If it is true it reduces the strong anthropic principle to the weak one, putting the fine tunings of physical law on the same footing as the environmental factors, for it means that our cosmic habitat—now the entire observable universe—is just one of many.” But it’s not enough to siply posit the many-worlds hypothesis. What reasons are there to think that the many-worlds hypothesis is a better hypothesis than a single cosmic Designer? Craig asks: “In particular, what mechanism is there that explains the many-worlds hypothesis; what mechanism brings these many worlds into being? When we identify that mechanism, we need to ask is it fine-tuned as well?” This is Q#3 – If this mechanism that explains the many worlds hypothesis is itself fine-tuned, then fine-tuning has not benn explained, it’s just been pushed back a notch.   
  • Q#4 – “We also need to ask Professor Hawking the question: What evidence is there that these many worlds, if they exist, are random in their constants and quantities? If the constants and quantities are just repetitive in these many worlds, then they do nothing to explain the fine-tuning of the universe.” “What reason is there to think that these constants and quanitites are randomly ordered across the many worlds? And why should we think that these worlds are infinite in number rather than finite in number?”
  • Q#5 – How does Hawking respond to Roger Penrose’s objection to the many-worlds hypothesis? Penrose, a colleague of Hawking, says that “if we are just a random member of a world ensemble, then it is incomprehensibly ore more probable that we should be observing a much different universe than the one we in fact observe. Therefore our observations make it overwhelmingly more probable that there is no world ensemble… Penrose argues that this appeal to “many worlds” and the anthropic principle is “worse than useless” in explaining the fine-tuning of the universe.” We should ask, how does Hawking respond to Penrose’s objections to the many worlds hypothesis as an explanation of the universe’s fine-tuning?

(I’m expecting my copy of GD to arrive today!)

Face-to-Face Your Anger and Interpersonal Conflict (Not Facebook It)

Face-to-Face Your Anger and Interpersonal Conflict (Not Facebook It)


I counsel, as a general rule, to never use things like Facebook or texting to share negative things or work out interpersonal conflict. For such things Face-to-Face is best.

Henri Nouwen writes:

“When you write a very angry letter to a friend who has hurt you deeply, don’t send it! Let the letter sit on your table for a few days and read it over a number of times. Then ask yourself: “Will this letter bring life to me and my friend? Will it bring healing, will it bring a blessing?” You don’t have to ignore the fact that you are deeply hurt. You don’t have to hide from your friend that you feel offended. But you can respond in a way that makes healing and forgiveness possible and opens the door for new life. Rewrite the letter if you think it does not bring life, and send it with a prayer for your friend.”

Submit to God In the Present Moment

Submit to God In the Present Moment

Bangkok Train Station

Greg Boyd, in his brilliant little book Present Perfect, writes:

“One of the reasons why many contemporary Western Christians place so much stress on hearing sermons, engaging in Bible studies, reading books, and attending seminars and conferences [is because] we believe that acquiring information is the key to helping us grow spiritually and solve our personal and social problems.” (98)

While sometimes information does help people grow and sometimes helps people solve problems, knowledge “does not on its own empower us to become more Christlike. When it comes to living in the Kingdom, moment-by-moment, our typical Western confidence in information is misplaced.” (98-99)

In the West we are “massively informed.” We have more data, more information, then Christians at any time in the past. But it is not evident that we are more spiritually mature than Christians in the past. Many today have written about how the lifestyle and core values of Western Christians are no different from pagan, worldly non-Christians. And this, in spite of all our Christian bookstores and books and websites and seminars and conferences and Bible studies. We have a real problem. And clearly it isn’t due to a lack of information.

Greg asks, “Why do so many Christians today spend more time listening to sermons or reading books than they do feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, welcoming outcasts, visiting prisoners, or engaging on other activities Jesus said should characterize Kingdom people?” (98) The answer lies in the great gap being knowing about the Kingdom and knowing Jesus and living out the Kingdom. I fully agree with Greg when he writes that “all the information in the world is worthless if it distracts from the simplest thing in the world, which is practicing the presence of God in the present moment.” (100)

Submit to God now, in the present moment. As we do this God’s “Life flows in and through us,” and “transforms us in a way no amount of knowledge can.” (101)