Sunday, April 22, 2018

Why Doesn't God Heal Everybody? Some Thoughts.

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Green Lake Chrsitian Conference Center, Wisconsin

My grandmother was healed of cancer. 

She lived with us six months out of every year when we were growing up. When she was in her mid-80s Grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided not to have it medically treated. The cancerous tumors in her breasts grew. My mother used to bathe her, and visually saw and physically felt the hard tumors growing.

Grandma knew she was going to die. She had lived a long life, and was ready to leave this world for another one. She even bought the dress she wanted to be buried in.

When Grandma had spent what we assumed would be her last six months in our home, she went to live with my aunt and uncle in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. One day my aunt called. She told my mother that, while bathing Grandma, she noticed that the tumors did not appear to be there. My mother could not believe this, yet wanted to believe it. Mom traveled 400 miles to visually inspect Grandma and confirm this.

Grandma lived for twelve more years. She bought two or three more dresses to be buried in. She died at age ninety-seven. 

What happened? How can we explain this? I, and my mother, concluded two things:

- Grandma once was cancer-filled, and then one day the cancer was gone.

- God healed Grandma.

I’ve heard of and personally seen other things like this. (For some really good, current, encouraging stuff see Eric Metaxas's book Miracles, and Craig Keener's magisterial Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. .) 

I’ve also been part of praying for people with illnesses whose illnesses have not gone away. Which raises the question: Why? Why do we not see everyone healed when we pray for them? I’ve thought long and hard about this over the years. I not only don’t have all the answers, I don’t think I can, given my quite-limited point of view, expect to have all the answers. Nonetheless, when I am asked this question, here’s how I respond.

1. Sickness and disease are not caused by God. God hates sickness and disease.

2. Sickness and disease are in this world because we live in, as Jesus referred to it, “this present evil age.” We live in a fallen world that’s ruled by Satan, who is called “the Prince of this world.”
3. Some diseases are part of living in this fallen world. The entire world is crying out for redemption (release) from this bondage.
4. Some diseases are caused by demonic forces. For example, Jesus sometimes heals a person by casting out a demon that is the cause of a person’s illness.
5. Some diseases are caused by our own choices. For example, the chain smoker who contracts lung cancer.

Why did God create a world like this? Why a world where such suffering was even allowed? For me the answer is this:

- God is love. That is, God, in His essence, IS love. God cannot not-love.
- Therefore, love is the highest value for God.
- God created persons (and spiritual beings) out of love.
- Genuine love is only possible if created agents have free will.
- Therefore, God gave created agents free will.
- This is risky, since free will implies that one can choose to not love God. When people choose against God this results in suffering, even illness. (This is the Free Will Defense. See, e.g., Alvin Plantinga.)

From God’s perspective, giving created agents free will is worth it, since God is love, and love is the highest value for God. Hence, much of this world’s suffering happens because of this.

As a pastor I’ve been around a lot of death and dying, to include my own family, even my baby son David. How do I continue to find hope in all of this? Here are some thoughts.

1. Understand what Jesus taught about the kingdom of God. Jesus talked about “the age to come,” where will be no sickness, no struggle, no tears. When God invaded earth in the form of a Person, the “age to come” invaded this present evil age. Jesus once said that, “If you see me cast out demons by the finger of God, you can know that the kingdom of God is in your midst.” That is why I pray for the sick to be healed today, and will continue to do so. 

2. Be part of a faith community. This makes a huge difference for me. I know people (even Christians) who would never pray for someone to be healed. In a faithless community one should not be shocked that healings are not seen. 

3. Discern. Sometimes a deeper spiritual healing is needed. Some illnesses are, at root, spiritual and emotional. I have found that, for example, a person who lives for years with bitterness towards others and refuses to forgive can be subject to physical illnesses. The account of Jesus' healing the lame man let down through the roof (Mark 2:1-12) implies that the forgiveness of the man's sins had some connection with his ability to pick up his mat and walk.

4. Don't blame the person who is sick. When Jesus prayed for sick people he never blamed them for their sickness. For example, Jesus rejects his disciples’ assumption that the blind man in John 10 was blind because either he or his parents must have sinned.

5. Persist in prayer. When some sick people are not healed through prayer, it may simply be because we haven't prayed long enough to bring the healing to completion. If you are my friend and you are sick I will never stop praying for your healing.

6. Live a Christ-abiding life. As James writes, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:6)

7. Be a skeptical theist. This does not mean be skeptical of God. It means: be skeptical of your own cognitive abilities to understand what God is doing. It is irrational to reason as follows:

1) I saw nothing happening when I prayed for someone.
2) Therefore, nothing happened. 

You can only go from 1 to 2 if you have epistemic (knowledge) access to the mind of our all-knowing God. (As an analogy: 1) I see no germs on this hypodermic needle. 2) Therefore, there are no germs on this hypodermic needle. We can all affirm the truth of 1. But none of us can see germs. Thus, we cannot go from 1 to 2. See "Skeptical Theism.")


I'm working on #s 3 and 4 - hopefully out in 2019:

How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation)

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Do Not Be Tempted By the Shallow Waters of Relevance

Image result for john piippo water

I have some 3X5 cards on my home office desk, next to my computer screen. On these cards are things God has said to me. I keep these messages before me.

One card reads: "Do not be tempted by the shallow waters of relevance. Keep going deeper." (December 19, 2016)

I'm not. And, I am.

One of my spiritually deep mentors is Howard Thurman. He has been a significant influence on my life. I remember, in 1982-1984, praying through A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants (the best spiritual-devotional guide ever for pastors and Christian leaders). That's where I met Thurman. I wondered, "Who is this deep person I've never heard of before?"

One influence on Thurman's spiritual life was theologian George Cross. Regarding Cross, Thurman writes: "Everything about me was alive when I came into his presence. He was all stimulus and I was all response." (Luther Smith, Howard Thurman: The Mystic as Prophet, p. 22)

Just before Thurman graduated from seminary Cross said to him:

"All social questions are temporary questions. They are part of the total growth of the race to maturity. If a man's energy goes into social problems, when that is no longer relevant his work is done. You, Howard Thurman, should address yourself to the timeless hunger of the human spirit. Doing so, your greatest capacities will be released." (Ib., 29, emphasis mine)

Keep addressing yourself to the timeless hunger of the human spirit. 

Though the world be shallow, keep going deeper. 

Pastors, take your people deeper. 

That's it for me, too. Because the deeper we go in the human heart, the more we are all the same.


I'm working on #s 3 and 4 - hopefully out in 2019:

How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation)

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Friday, April 20, 2018

Don't Give Money to TV Preachers Who Promise Financial Miracles

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This morning I'm reading Michael Brown's new book, Playing with Holy Fire: A Wake-Up Call to the Pentecostal-Charismatic Church. Brown is a Pentecostal theologian, as I am. He is thankful for the moving of the Holy Spirit, in the past and now (me too). He is not a cessationist (I'm not, either). He is also deeply concerned about Pentecostal abuses. (I am, too.)

"The Pentecostal-Charismatic church is plagued with sexual immorality, financial corruption, doctrinal error, personal flakiness, spiritual gullibility, prophetic abuse, and more. In many ways the state of the church today is not too different from how it was long ago in Corinth. To make matters worse, the church hides these acts under the cloak of liberty in the Holy Spirit." (, book description) 

Perhaps you have sensed, while watching certain TV preachers, that something is not right about their inflated appeals for money. Brown writes:

"Do I believe that some ministries are truly “good ground” and God will bless you for sowing into them? Yes, I do, because they’re doing important work that is near and dear to God’s heart. But the idea that you get to sow into some kind of special, financial miracle anointing is completely bogus and manipulative." (Brown, Playing With Holy Fire, p. 14)

Completely bogus and manipulative. These phonies are after your money, to expand their own, lavish, materialistic kingdom.

Brown explains all this in great detail, while completely retaining his love for the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement.

Michael will be one of our main speakers at our annual HSRM Conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin. He will speak Sunday morning and evening, and Monday morning and evening. I am excited he will be with us!

Check out these reviews.

One of the best, most accurate, yet loving, critiques of the Charismatic movement to date. It is written by one who is unashamedly a Charismatic but sees faults and grave dangers that some are afraid to confront. Dr. Michael Brown hits the nail on the head. This is must-reading for anyone who values the Charismatic movement and its future. 

I find myself saying, “Amen! Amen! Amen!” This book is so needed right now! People eager for revelation yet not grounded in Scripture make easy targets for charlatans to exploit them and unsound teachings to move them. May God awaken His church.

Dr. Michael Brown offers a compelling, careful, and honest critique of the current Pentecostal-Charismatic movement. Michael astutely observes that while many wonderful things are taking place by and in the Spirit, there are also aberrations and abuses that require accountability and rectification. My prayer is that we all take heed and listen to what he wisely offers based on his observations and that we too once again learn how to more accurately and carefully discern what the Spirit is saying to the churches. 

The Pentecostal-Charismatic movement is very young and amazingly vibrant. It is by far the fastest-growing and most global phenomenon in the history of Christianity. It should not be surprising that something so dynamic would come with its share of challenges and issues. But for too long many of the abuses and errors in our midst have gone unaddressed. We are overdue for a much-needed correction. While some would love to throw out the baby with the bathwater, many of us see the precious work that God is doing and are willing to contend for it. This is what the apostle Paul did in Corinth, and it is what is needed in the Charismatic movement today. 

In Playing With Holy Fire Dr. Michael Brown addresses many of these challenges, not as an outside cynic throwing stones but as a concerned elder and father who has been a part of the movement for well over forty years. In the past Dr. Brown has often stood as a staunch defender of Charismatics and of the moving of the Spirit. But now he is bringing a much-needed word of correction to his own beloved spiritual family. He has managed to strike a nearly impossible balance, being not only brutally honest but also gracious and life-giving. Playing With Holy Fire is convicting but also constructive. Dr. Brown has earned the right to speak to our community, and now his message needs to be heard more than ever. It’s time for us to put our house in order and prepare for God to move as never before. 

Dr. Michael Brown is a prolific writer, dynamic speaker, and brilliant academic. His books and teachings have been a personal source of encouragement, inspiration, and guidance for me over the past twenty-one years. Playing With Holy Fire is another clarion call to leaders and Christians around the world, a sobering warning to the body of Christ. May the holy fire of God set you ablaze as you read this book.

Some people have passion, and that is good. Some people have intellect, and that is good. Few people seem to have large doses of both. But there is an exception. Dr. Michael Brown has both! He is one of the most respected voices in the church today, especially in the Charismatic movement, combining a heart for revival with sound scholarship and prophetic insight. God’s people need to listen carefully when he speaks. 

Dr. Michael Brown is one of the most important prophetic voices in the church today! In Playing With Holy Fire he calls out the dysfunction and challenges us in the Charismatic community to raise the standard—big time. We must do so if we are going to see the Lamb receive the reward of His suffering—which is the nations. As one who is constantly exposed to the inner workings of the Charismatic community—and a very proud part of it—I recognize there is much purity mixed with grievous error. 

This book will give you an informed, balanced, insider’s look at some of the dangers that attempt to distort the Charismatic movement. Dr. Brown is not a critic on the outside looking in; he is someone who has been a part of the Spirit-empowered community ever since he came to faith in the Messiah. He doesn’t just call out issues; he calls forth biblical solutions, not attempting to “quench the Spirit” but to create a culture where the church can experience the Spirit in a greater measure because our experience is in complete agreement with what’s outlined in Scripture. 

Dr. Michael Brown is a friend of mine who is never afraid of tackling controversial issues head-on. His prophetic call to the body of Christ, coupled with his high-level scholarship, enables him to speak and write as few can in the church today. In this book Dr. Brown brings a course correction and deals with some extremes found in the Charismatic movement. Both Evangelical and Charismatic leaders can benefit from this important work! 

I’ve known Dr. Brown for over three decades and have respected his unwavering, tenacious, and courageous commitment to God and His Word. Motivated by a passion for God and compassion for people, even those who may adamantly disagree with him, Dr. Brown continues to seek to reflect Christ in the love of the truth and demonstrated with grace. 

I trust that those who read through this book with humility, honesty, and personal review will be encouraged to think deeper and to draw closer to the Lord. This book challenges the church to consider where we have allowed the enemy in our camp, even if he appears as an angel of light, and denounces the deception that seeks to misguide many believers. This book not only aides us but provokes and challenges us to get back to being lovers of biblical truth, shedding light on areas where we may have drifted from our moorings and helping us to get back to “high noon” with the Father of Lights, where there is no shadow turning. Personally I found the book to be heart provoking, yet refreshing.

We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, our plumb line of truth and righteousness, healing and hope. 


I have known Dr. Brown for many years and have found him to be a vigilant watchman for truth. This book is a must-read for all Christians who desire to honor our spiritual heritage while preparing for a tremendous future harvest. The passion, power, and purity of former days must be passed on with biblical clarity as we pass on practical and best practices. Dr. Brown’s book does this and more. I read the book from cover to cover in one sitting. It affirmed many of my spiritual values and gave me hope for the future. I commend Dr. Brown for writing this page-turner that will instruct instruct young and old, black and white, male and female during this season of division, dissension, and doctrinal imbalance. 

I give a hearty amen to each of the major points in Playing With Holy Fire and an amen to Dr. Brown’s commitment to the biblical position of continuationism with its belief that all the gifts of the Spirit are still available and active in the church today. Abuse should not lead to neglect but to correction. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Amusing Our Infantile Selves to Death

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Store, in Ann Arbor

Over 2000 years ago the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote:

"It is indeed a strange thought that the end should be amusement, and that the busyness and suffering throughout one’s life should be for the sake of amusing oneself." (In Skidelsky, Robert; Skidelsky, Edward, 
How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life, p. 96)

This is where we now are as a culture, amusing ourselves to death. 

Think of the people of Panem in The Hunger Games. Think of Philip Seymour Hoffman consenting to the needle of happiness that one day would suffocate him. Think of the increase of happiness studies and "happiness economics" that have their statistical fingers on the pulse of our satisfaction.  Economic growth has been divorced from any humanly intelligible end. (See Ib.)

The Skidelsky's write:

"To make happiness itself, independent of its objects, the chief goal of government is a recipe for infantilization— the prospect memorably dramatized by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. We do not want to banish the engineers of growth only to see them replaced by the engineers of bliss." (Ib., 97)

See also:


In the Real Church Influence, Not Numbers, Matters

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My praying chair, in my backyard by the river, emerging from the winter

Reading Eugene Peterson's The Pastor: A Memoir, solidified in me an idea
I have had for many years. Which is: as a pastor and Jesus-follower,
I am to desire influence, rather than size, in terms of numbers of people. 

It is not important how big or small a church is. It is important 
how influential a church is. Influence, not size, is what really matters. Just a handful of Jesus-followers in the first century changed the world, right? Why not your church family, or mine? 

By "influence" I mean the kind of things Jesus talked about when he used 
metaphors like "salt" and "yeast." "You are the salt of the earth," Jesus said (Matthew 5:13). 
A little bit of salt can flavor a lot of food. What's needed are salty Jesus-followers. Your church is the influencer of the earth.

Salt influences food, rather than it is influenced by it. Salt is active, not passive. 
I am to influence the world, rather than being influenced by it.

Non-salty "Christians" are, in Jesus' eyes, "no longer good for anything, 
except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot." (Matthew 5:13) Whether your church is large or small, if it lacks influence it is worthless. (Read Matthew 5:13 again.)

I now think of my philosophy students. For most of them, "church" flavors nothing in their lives. They can't taste "church" at all. Most of them have never had a bite of Real Church. They eat the world's food, minus the salt of the Church. Church, for them, is a flavorless, hence worthless, thing. 

How many people are in my church? Wrong question! Instead, ask, How salty is my church? Is it influential as regards Jesus and the Kingdom? Reject what Peterson calls "the lust for size." Pray instead that influence would be multiplied. (Forget the words "success" and "metrics.")

Begin by being yourself influenced by Christ. Influential power flows from the Vine to the branch (that's you), as you continuously abide in Christ. The strategy is not on numbers, but staying connected to Jesus. This results in a daily being-influenced by him. You become salty. Then God pours you out of the saltshaker and into the world. (See here - still, a book that has influenced me.) As you are impacted by the living Christ you will not be able to contain your salty self.

The core prayer of a Jesus-following pastor is not, “God, supersize us!” It is, “God, use us.” 
At this point numbers do not matter. Neither smallness nor largeness secures influence.

Peterson says that he "wanted to develop a congregational awareness that was shaped under the influence of Sunday worship and that then infiltrated the hours and days of the week implicitly in every workplace and household." (Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir, p. 275)

Influence infiltrates.

My understanding of church history is that cultures, communities, and even nations that began to follow Jesus did so as a result of what God was doing in a small number of Christ-abiding, salty people. My church, and your church, can make a difference. This is where the numbers do not matter,

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Examine Yourself Before You Examine Others

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How far do I want to follow Jesus?

As one of his disciples, my starting place is not to condemn and critique others. Rather, I am to look in the mirror and examine myself. I am to cry out, "Search me, Oh God, and know my heart!"

I have enough stuff to occupy my inner searching for a lifetime. 

As Jesus said:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5

This is wise, beautiful counsel. I can share, from my own experience, that it is hard being the judge of all people. It has kept me awake at times. It has made me angry. If affects how I view others. When entertained, the captive audience becomes bitter. 

Lisa Bevere once wrote that she probably had enough planks in her eyes to build an entertainment center. (Lisa Bevere, The True Measure of a Woman, p. 32)

It's demolition day, and I am a plank-remover.

Only then will my self-righteousness be gone, and, aided by the Spirit, accompanied by compassion and caring love, I might be used of God to engage in the delicate task of speck-removal.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

I'm working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart.

Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

What Does It Profit a Person to Gain 'Likes' but Lose Their Soul?

My back yard, slipping into the abyss

There are authentic people on social media. These people know who they are, and are not trying to be someone other than who they are.

On the other side, there are those who fabricate false selves, personas, on social media. For research on this, see Donna Freitas, The Happiness Effect: How Social Media Is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost

One of Freitas's interviewees is a student named Michael. Michael says "social media is all about performance - a performance of your "self" in an effort to impress other people... It's all about the 'likes.' It's all about, 'What can I do to show everybody else how great my life is?'" (Freitas, Happiness, p. 20)

Michael believes most people on social media are "inauthentic."

Inauthentic. From the Greek word autos, which means "self." Not one's true self. Unreal.

Inauthenticity puts the spiritual life on life support. The inauthentic self slip-slides down to the netherworld of the abyss of fantasy. The oh-so-prescient Thomas Merton wrote, decades ago:

"It is not only human nature that is “saved” by the divine mercy, but above all the human person. The object of salvation is that which is unique, irreplaceable, incommunicable—that which is myself alone. This true inner self must be drawn up like a jewel from the bottom of the sea, rescued from confusion, from indistinction, from immersion in the common, the nondescript, the trivial, the sordid, the evanescent. 

We must be saved from immersion in the sea of lies and passions which is called “the world.” And we must be saved above all from that abyss of confusion and absurdity which is our own worldly self. The person must be rescued from the individual. The free son of God must be saved from the conformist slave of fantasy, passion and convention. The creative and mysterious inner self must be delivered from the wasteful, hedonistic and destructive ego that seeks only to cover itself with disguises. 

To be “lost” is to be left to the arbitrariness and pretenses of the contingent ego, the smoke-self that must inevitably vanish. To be “saved” is to return to one’s inviolate and eternal reality and to live in God." (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, pp. 40-41)

What does it profit a person to gain "likes" but lose their soul?

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

I'm working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart.

Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Join Me This Summer in Green Lake, Wisconsin!

Of all the conferences Linda and I have attended, the annual HSRM Conference is our favorite. Much more than a conference, this annual event has brought us into a family. 

We began attending in 1992. Since then, we've been able to make every one of them except for one summer.

We'll be there again this coming June, and would love to have you join us.

A special invitation to pastors: If you've not yet come to one of our conferences, but are interested in this summer's event, we have a scholarship for you. Please feel free to contact me for details. I'd love to spend time with at this beautiful conference center discussing presence-driven ministry!

(My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.)
Click here for Green Lake Conference Center website


1.  God's presence is there
2.  God's power is at work 
3.  Faith gets enlarged
4.  Strongholds are broken
5.  Worship is anointed
6.  Healings happen
7.  Deeper understanding of the Spirit-filled life is gained 
8.  Revival, Renewal, Restoration, Refreshment, Rest, Recreation
9.  Kids love it, teens love it, adults love it, pastors love it

10. It's a family...!


Stop Finding Fault with Others

How far do I want to follow Jesus?

This morning I read Matthew 7:1-2:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 
For in the same way you judge others, 
you will be judged, 
and with the measure you use, 
it will be measured to you.

Jesus is talking about people. My problem is that I make too many judgments about people without understanding. I know that judging without understanding is ignorant and foolish. When I do this, I am often wrong.

Sometimes, I speculate. Speculation is a form of non-understanding and, as such, is usually a waste of time. I've expended a lot of time guessing about the actions of other people, sometimes forming judgments based on my predictions. 

This is not about making judgments, but about judgmentalism. We make countless judgments every day. The lights in my room are on. Or, It's going to snow this morning. I judge that those two statements are true. Linda and I are tired of winter. That's true, too. And, If X keeps using heroin, he could die. That's true. All these judgments involving states of affairs can be made with a good heart.

Judgmentalism, however, is about a different heart attitude. A judgmental person is a critic of others. A judgmental person is someone who condemns others.

New Testament scholar R. T. France writes: "Judge (krino) often carries the connotation of "condemn," and it is in that sense that it is used here." (France, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 142)

France continues:

"This passage is concerned with the fault-finding, condemnatory attitude which is too often combined with a blindness to one's own failings. The least such an attitude can expect is to be judged with equal harshness by other men. But the passive [tense], as often in Matthew, probably conceals God himself as the agent. Just as he will forgive those who forgive (6:14-15), he will condemn those who condemn." (Ib.)

John Stott writes that Jesus' command "is not a requirement to be blind, but a plea to be generous." (In Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 165)

Commenting on these verses, Morris writes:

"Jesus' words surely refer to the divine tribunal. To be quick to call others to account is to invite God to call us to account. That judgment of some form is required of his followers is clear from the demand that they cast not what is holy to dogs (Mt. 7:6); what is forbidden is censoriousness, the readiness to find fault." (Ib.)

Craig Keener writes that "Jesus does not oppose offering correction, but only offering correction in the wrong spirit." (Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, p. 240)

I agree that judging others while being blind to my own faults is toxic.

I agree that condemning others is not my responsibility.

I agree that judging without understanding is foolish, bringing pain not only to others but to myself as well.

I agree.

"But Jesus demands more than agreement from disciples: he demands obedience." (Keener, Ib., p. 241)