Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Teaching Western Philosophy et. al. at MCCC

Tomorrow I begin teaching at Monroe County Community College. My classes are Intro to Western Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, and Intro to Logic.

I taught Western Philosophy several years ago. I'm re-doing the entire class, which is a lot of work, but a lot of fun. I get to revisit the great philosophers from the Pre-Socratics to Wittgenstein and all the major ones in between.

Tomorrow morning I'll introduce students to the problem of the "one and the many," via Pre-Socratic philosopher Thales; and then on to Parmenides' radical discovery of Being as his solution to the matter of change. With a little of Democritus's atomistic theory as a precursor to today's quantum theory. I look forward to seeing if I can make sense of this stuff to students who have never been exposed to philosophy before!



Thursday, Aug. 28

7 PM

Redeemer Church - Monroe, MI

Led by our church's youth

Anyone is invited to come

Discernment Is a Function of Intimacy (Prayer Summer 2014)

St. Mary Mother House, Monroe, MI

“Discernment” is a fruit of an abiding prayer life. 

To "discern" is different from to "decide."

Ruth Haley Barton writes that some pastors have the "vague sense that our approach to decision making should be different from secular models—particularly when we are leading a church or an organization with a spiritual purpose. The problem is that we’re not quite sure what that difference is. In the absence of a clear consensus, that difference often gets reduced to an obligatory devotional (often viewed as irrelevant to the business portion of the meeting) or the perfunctory prayers that bookend the meeting. Sometimes even these well-meaning attempts at a spiritual focus get lost in the shuffle!" (Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, Kindle Locations 180-185)

This difference is: God. God's presence. God, doing the leading. God, doing the building. Because unless God builds the house, we are laboring in vain.

What's needed is: discernment. 

"Discernment," writes Barton, "in a most general sense, is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives. The apostle Paul says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2). This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind." (Ib., Kindle Locations 186-189)

What's fundamentally needed is mind-renewing transformation. Pastors and church leaders must therefore themselves be living in the rivers of constant spiritual formation and transformation, in order to discern what the will of God is. This is what the whole "church" thing is about. Barton writes:

"It is hard to imagine that spiritual leadership could be about anything but seeking to know and do the will of God, and yet many leadership groups do not have this as their clear mandate and reason for existence. This raises a serious question: If we are not pursuing the will of God together in fairly intentional ways, what are we doing? Our own will? What seems best according to our own thinking and planning? That which is merely strategic or expedient or good for the ego?" (Ib., Kindle Locations 201-205)

The more familiar or intimate we are with someone, the more we are able to discern their heart. The more time spent in close dialogue, the more we recognize their voice. The less familiarity, the less discernment. Spiritual discernment is in direct proportion to our intimacy with God.

In praying, spend much time with God. Spiritual discernment comes from an intimate praying life.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Praying to Get Closer to God's Heart (Prayer Summer 2014)

Pray to get closer to God's heart. But: 

WARNING! One of the challenges is you. As you get closer to God you will diminish, and God will dominate the spotlight. Your plans will recede. Your goals will back off. "You" will not longer be front and center.

This is good, because the cause of most of your problems is: you.

Henri Nouwen writes: "Our desire to be successful, well liked, and influential becomes increasingly less important as we come closer to God's heart." (Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, K 16%)

I continue to find this is good, so I am praying to be free from my own perceived greatness and get close to God and his glory.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Prayer and Neuroscience - Some Current Resources

One of my former Payne Theological Seminary students asked me for resources referring to praying and brain studies. Here's my response.

Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg (U of Pennsylvania) is doing major research in this area. See his books here -

U of Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregaard is working in the area of spirituality and neuroscience -

And, I recently read The Psychology of Prayer: A Scientific Approach - esp. chs. 6 and 7.

Finally, New Testament scholar Joel Green is working in the area of neuroscience - see his excellent book Body, Soul, and Human Life.

Michael Brown - "Smashing the Myth of American Church Success"

Michael Brown's "Smashing the Myth of American Church Success" is very good.

Here's a few quotes - read the entire article.

There is a myth of church success in America that says, "The bigger the building, the bigger the budget, the bigger the attendance, the more successful you are."
In the sight of man, this might equal success, but in the sight of God, it might have nothing to do with success. In fact, it might simply be the beautiful facade hiding all kinds of spiritual rot and decay...
All too often, though, outward success has nothing to do with discipleship or spiritual growth, which is why Jesus rebuked the church of Sardis, saying, "You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead" (Rev 3:1).
His rebuke to Laodicea was even sharper: "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (Rev 3:17).
In their case, the outward reflected the opposite of the inward, and the natural wealth only obscured their spiritual poverty.
Yet so many of our American churches and leaders don't get it, as Christian pollster and researcher George Barna has recognized, noting that, "There are five factors that the vast majority of pastors turn to" when asked how they know if their churches are successful.
Those five factors were, "Attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff and square footage."
What a significant indicator of deep spiritual deception...
Tragically, many American (and international) leaders think that success is measured by these outward characteristics (many congregants feel the same way), yet none of them necessarily reflect maturity in Jesus, soundness in the Word, Christlike conduct, intimacy with the Lord, solid family life, compassionate outreach, or the presence of the Spirit. In fact, none of them reflect a single goal expressed by Jesus and the apostles.
When did Jesus or Paul or Peter or John ever say, "You can measure the success of your mission by how many people attend your meetings, or by how much they give, or by the size of the buildings you build?"...
This, then, is the big question we must ask ourselves, especially as leaders: What has Jesus called us to build?

N. T. Wright on Repetition in Worship

Linda and I watched "The Lego Movie" last week. To our delight we enjoyed it!

The movie left a mark on my soul. I've found myself humming "Everything is AWESOME!!!" That is the power of repetition. Be careful of what you repeat over and over again, because it will get inside you and want to stay. (BTW, in my college philosophy classes my teaching method is all about getting students to memorize via repetition the correct answers over and over and over again.)

Over the years I occasionally hear some Westernized linear-thinking Christian mock the repetitive worship found in a Pentecostal church like mine. But the ancient Hebrews were tribal, and tribal worship is repetitive.

This morning I read N.T. Wright's "Everyone" commentary on 1 John 2:3-5. I'm preaching on these verses this coming Sunday. I was so pleased to read the following.

"[S]ometimes, in some traditions at least, the things we sing in church are deliberately repetitive. We use them quite differently: as a way of meditation, of stopping on one point and mulling it over, of allowing something which is very deep and important to make more of an impact on us than if we just said or sung it once and passed on. Quite different traditions find this helpful: the TaizĂ© movement in France, for instance, uses some haunting brief songs or chants; but you find the same thing in many branches of the modern charismatic movement, where repetition is an essential part of worship. True, some people find these tedious, and want to get back to old-fashioned hymns as quickly as possible. This may be partly a matter of personality. But it may also be that such people are unwilling to allow the truth of which the poem speaks to get quite so close to them. Repetition can touch, deep down inside us, parts that other, ‘safer’ kinds of hymn cannot reach, or do not very often."
- N.T. Wright, The Early Christian Letters for Everyone, p. 139

Repetitive worship is not "mindless" but mind-shaping.

Be repetitive re. the truths of God and be transformed.

We Need More Repetitive Worship (Tribal Worship Was 7-11 Worship)

Worship at Redeemer, at Furious Love
At Redeemer, during worship, we feel God often leads us to repeat lines, verses, even sometimes words of a worship song we are singing. This happens at the discernment of the worship leader, or myself and one of our pastors.

Many of us love this. But I think some people, not necessarily ours, despise it. Some even mock it, using the saying "This is just '7-11' worship: 7 verses each repeated 11 times."

OK. But tribal worship is repetitive. I've worshiped in several contexts in India. At one service the people repeated two lines for at least 20 minutes. I thought it was beautiful, and haunting to me in a good way. It stayed with me.

I've worshiped in several contexts in Kenya. At the pastor's conference I was speaking at there was a lot of very beautiful, harmonic, repetitive tribal worship. I recorded some on my phone. I was deeply moved by this.

African American worship retains this repetitive tribalness. (See, e.g., Peter Paris's The Spirituality of African Peoples for how African American worship and "church" owes much to its African tribal roots.) Certain lines are sung over and over and over... and over... Such worship is radically mindful, not mindless.

Hebraic culture was tribal. Therefore, Hebraic worship was repetitive. It was circular worship, not linear worship (4 verses, a chorus, then we're out of here "on time"). I've worshiped in several Asian contexts, and experienced a lot of repetitive singing of biblical themes and verses. I can see it and hear it right now. Repetition has staying power. Repetitive worship is meditative worship. Repetitive worship is the antithesis of McWorship.

Time is experienced differently in tribal contexts than it is in Western contexts. Western chronology fixates on the clock; tribal kairos-ology stays with the event. Tribal worship is event-oriented; Western worship is time- (chronos) oriented. The tribal-worship idea is that God is going to show up and do something. So we refer to Sunday mornings at Redeemer as God-events. Really, who wants anything less than this? And, BTW, God is not on our clock-time. God is not twitching and jerking to "get out of church on time."

Consider, e.g., Psalm 1. It sings:

1 Blessed is the one

who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Remember that these words, in Hebrew, were sung by the worshiping congregation. But singing through them once takes only a minute. Did they sing this song just once in their worship? Taking only a minute to do it? If there were any Westernized clock-watching addicts among them they would be pleased at singing just once through this short psalm. But there weren't any digitized "worshipers" there, and the song went on and on and on... 

Linear, Westernized clock-time worship is shallow and ineffective compared to Hebraic tribal-repetitive worship. A one-time-through-a-hymn approach skims the surface compared to repetitive-meditative worship's staying power. Repetitive worship digs deep roots into the neuroplastic physical brain and one's spiritual heart. This is worship as spiritually exercising, doing "worship reps" that build, over time, spiritual muscle. The spiritual antidote for our shallow, surfacy tweet-world of today is: lots and lots and lots of worship reps in God's spiritual gymnasium, where we exercise unto godliness.

Repetitive worship is "better is one day in your courts" worship. Non-repetitive worship, Western-style, promotes a "thousands of days elsewhere" attitude. Real worship dwells, and longs to do so; it abides and doesn't want to let go. The real worshiper isn't anxiously tapping his foot because he's got other things to do.

The 24-7 Repetitive Worship of the Four Living Creatures & the 24 Elders

Don't blame worship-loving Azuza Street charismatics for inventing repetitive, physical, emotional worship. Look at Revelation 4 and behold the "beyond-7-11 worship" of the four living creatures and the copycat 24 elders.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”
9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”

These amazing "four living creatures" are doing nothing but worshiping God, 24-7. We are told that they are singing the same words over and over and over and over...  non-stop. Does anyone want to accuse these holy creatures of mindless, repetitive worship?

Then there are the "24 elders." They respond, over and over and over and over and... over again and again, 24-7, by falling down before God and singing the words we read in v. 11. These elders are the fallingest people in the entire Bible. Anyone want to accuse them of being over-emotional as they are laying there with their faces pressed to the ground in love with the God of all heaven and earth?

All this makes sense in Hebrew culture which is:

  1. tribal (therefore repetition is not only not a threat but desired and expected)
  2. physically expressive; and
  3. emotional (therefore unafraid of expressing emotion)
The idea that this worship is "unthinking" comes from the influence of the likes of Plato and Descartes, and the resultant philosophical-Western bifurcation of "feeling" vs. "thinking," of "Kirk" vs. "Spock."

The Cartesian Spock (right) could not understand the
emotion of the Hebraic Kirk (left).

Sunday, August 24, 2014

For the praying person what we think of God makes a difference (Prayer Summer 2014)

Breakfast in Nairobi with Al W.
I'm preaching this morning at Redeemer out of 1 John 2:1-2. At the heart of John's letter is his concern that some of his readers are walking in darkness, saying hey have no sin when they really do, and thus are deceiving themselves. John's strategy is to bring the concept of God's character as light, purity, and righteousness to center stage. What we think of God makes all the difference in our struggle against sin.

For some recent empirical research to back up this idea see "Sociologist: Concept of God impacts power of prayer, anxiety-related disorders." Prayer seems effective in combating psychological challenges, like relieving anxiety. The level of effectiveness is connected with the person's concept of God.

Baylor University sociologist Matt Bradshaw received a Templeton Grant and published his findings in the journal Sociology of Religion - "Prayer, Attachment to God, and Anxiety-Related Disorders Among U.S. Adults." 

"According to his study, people who prayed to a loving and supportive God whom they thought would be there to comfort and protect them in times of need were less likely to show symptoms of anxiety-related disorders — irrational worry, fear, self-consciousness, dread in social situations and obsessive-compulsive behavior — than those who prayed but did not expect God to comfort or protect them."

Perceived characteristics of God - such as loving, remote, or judgmental - affect the relationship between prayer and mental health.

For the praying person what we think of God makes a difference.