Thursday, April 26, 2018

Pseudo-Travelers to "the Third Heaven"

Lady bug

For all of us who are theologically Pentecostal/Charismatic, Michael Brown's Playing with Holy Fire is must-reading. And, I confess, it is at times fun reading. In the past hour I have laughed, out loud, all by myself in my home office, at least five times. This is over the top, if you knew my ethnic upbringing.

Brown takes on everything, from the prosperity "gospel" to pep-talk preachers, fake healers to false prophets, liars and exaggerators to hermeneutical ignoramuses. And more. And all, with love and truth, and humility.

One thing Brown tackles and disposes of is claims to have journeyed to "the third heaven." You know, where Paul went.

In 2 Corinthians 12:2-5 Paul writes:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 

That "man" was Paul himself. Paul heard "inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell." Brown asks "How, then, do people who have allegedly gone to this same third heaven come back so chatty, lighthearted, and glib, describing everything they saw and heard in detail?" (Ib., 149)

How can they encounter something so sacred and holy, yet be so casual and flippant about it? Something, writes Brown, does not line up. He quotes A.W. Tozer:

"There are many great lessons for us in the worship and reverence of the heavenly seraphim Isaiah described in his vision. I notice that they covered their feet and they covered their faces. Because of the presence of the Holy God, they reverently covered their faces. Reverence is a beautiful thing, and it is so rare in this terrible day in which we live.…

But a man who has passed the veil, and looked even briefly upon the holy face of Isaiah’s God can never be irreverent again. There will be a reverence in his spirit and instead of boasting, he will cover his feet modestly. Even if he’s been somewhere, instead of coming home and bragging about it, chances are he’ll cover his feet." (In Ib., 150)

In Scripture it is common, when encountering Almighty God, to...
... walk with a limp (Gen. 32:22-32)
...put one's hand on one's mouth so as not to speak (Job 40:4)
...have a heightened awareness of one's own unholiness (Luke 5:8)
...fall like a dead person before the feet of Jesus (Rev. 1:17).

"Yet," writes Brown, "some of our leaders supposedly bounce in and out of God's heavenly courts as if they were poking their heads into a bar and saying hi to an old drinking buddy." (Ib., 150)

Stay away from these "leaders."

"The truth be told, there’s more strutting than limping and more informality than holy fear, all of which makes you wonder if they’re taking mental journeys more than spiritual journeys. As one of my friends asked about an openly carnal colleague, “How can he be so fleshly if he spends 30 percent of his time visiting heaven?” Something is not right." (Ib., 151)

My Book on the Presence-Driven Church Now Only $4.80 for Kindle

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My book Leading the Presence-Driven Church is - right now - selling for $4.80 for your Kindle.

I have no idea why the price was dropped from $7.99.

This has happened before, and then it returned to the regular price.

You can download the Kindle App for free - here

Freedom From Everybody, and From My Own Self

Downtown Monroe

I love this quote from Frank Laubach:

"I am trying to be utterly free from everybody,
free from my own self,
but completely enslaved to the will of God
every moment of this day."
(In Greg Boyd, 
Present Perfect, 43)

To be utterly free from everybody. 

Increasingly, I find myself not wanting to be like anyone I know, or have known. I want to be like Christ. This allows me to be free of other people - what they think of me, whether or not they agree with me, and so on.

This freedom unattaches me from other people want me to be. I am the clay, but other people are not my potter. And, I am not my own potter. I am not to be a self-made vessel.

Such utter freedom allows me to better love other people. My love for them is not a function of any attachment to them. Enslaved only to the will of God, I am set free to love others, without manipulating them to love me in return.

Attached only to God, I am unattached to the opinions of others, and unattached to my own self.

Thomas Merton once prayed, "Lord, save me from myself." (Brian Welch of Korn echoed this prayer 
here.) This means being free from death-producing, spirit-quenching aspects of my self. To be free of the "false self."

Enslavement to the will of God means attunement to the heart of God, the desires of God. To have a heart that beats with the heart of God, and marches to his drum.

Divorce Creates Ontological Insecurity for Children

Green Lake Christian Conference Center, Wisconsin

Linda and I are called to save as many marriages as we can. One reason is: the children. The rationalization that, after divorce, "the kids will be OK" is mostly mythical.

Divorce has disastrous consequences for children. It creates an ontological void in their souls. The fabric of their being, which is essentially a being-in-community, is ruptured.

Andrew Root describes this in The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being. Root writes:

"To be human is to have our being, to be made real, as this person belonging to these people. And this is what’s so painful about divorce. It ruptures the “this people” that provides children the strength to embrace their own “this person.” It ruptures ontological security." (Root, "Young People, Divorce, & Youth Ministry," 18)

Divorce, says Root, calls a child's existence into question. If we are truly social animals, nullifying a family has social implications. (See Root, "Why Divorce Calls Children's Existence into Question")

"We desire to be found, to know and encounter those who brought us into the world." (Ib.) Knowing this, who would want to break it?

If you got divorced and have children, your kids will need help outside of you.

If you live in the Monroe area and want help call here, or here.

See also:

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

John 14:11 & Perichoresis

It must have been thirteen years ago (I can't remember) when NBC-Toledo sent a film crew up to Monroe to interview me re. my thoughts on Dan Brown's book The DaVinci Code. An entire half-hour was about this book, and I got to interact with news anchor Jim Blue. He asked me questions I did not know of in advance, but I was familiar with what he was asking and felt confident in my responses. Years later it's clear to see that, if a scholar wants to investigate Jesus, no one would look at the work of Dan Brown and the unscholarly thesis underlying DaVinci Code.

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington writes: “We live in a Jesus haunted culture that is Biblically illiterate, and so unfortunately at this point in time, almost anything can pass for knowledge of the historical Jesus…” from notions that he was a Cynic sage to ideas that he was a Gnostic guru to fantasies that he didn't exist, to Dan Brown's Jesus of hysterical (rather than historical) fiction.”

One thing we've done at Redeemer to upgrade our Jesus-literacy is preach chronologically through the four Gospels. This took us seven years! This immersion into the Jesus-texts has had a profound impact on me. 

One impactful thing comes out of John  chapters 14-17. Here we have the last words of Jesus to his disciples. Therefore, they are very important. They wonder how they shall carry on without their Lord. Jesus does not respond by saying, "Form some committees and start some programs." Instead, he invites them into the Trinitarian perichoretic relationship of which he is a part.

In John 14:8-11. Philip asks Jesus, in a Moses-like request (Exodus 33:18), "Show us the Father and that will be enough." Jesus responds by saying "Philip, if you have seen me you have seen the Father." Then, Jesus says words that are, I think, the most profound revelation we have in the New Testament of the nature of Jesus in his relationship with the Father. He says: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:11) Scholars have called this Son-Father relationship one of "mutual indwelling." It's intimate, close, and has been going on for eternity.

Understanding this Son-Father relationship is key to understanding nearly everything that follows in John 14-17, because you and I are invited into this relationship.

Early church leaders found a word that, to them, described the mutual indwelling of the Son and the Father and the Spirit: "perichoresis." From Theopedia: "Perichoresis is a Greek term used to describe the triune relationship between each person of the Godhead. It can be defined as co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration. Alister McGrath writes that it "allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two. An image often used to express this idea is that of a 'community of being,' in which each person, while maintaining its distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them.""

Perichoresis means, literally, "to move, or dance, around." God, in His 3-fold eternal personhood, is the explanation for the words Jesus speaks and the miracles, signs, and wonders Jesus does. The incredible news is that God invites us into this relationship. I am invited into the Big Dance.

 Think of what Jesus says re. the Son-Father perichoretic relationship, and then look closely at what Jesus goes on to say:

· John 15:1 - "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
· John 15:4 – “Abide in me, and I in you.”
· John 14:12 - I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. ·
· John 14:13 - And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
· John 14:17-18 - But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
· John 14:23 - "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
· John 15:9 - As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
· John 15:15 - 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
· John 16:13-15 - When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
· John 16:26 - the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
· John 17:5 – Jesus says… “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
· John 17:20-23 - I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

What makes sense of all these Jesus-words is what Jesus says in John 14:11. It's the secret of Jesus - what he says, what he does, how he lives. This is "Emmanuel, God with us." 

The relationship Jesus the Son has with the Father is the pattern which Jesus wants to have with you. Just as Jesus lives by means of the Father at work in Him, so you and I can live by means of Jesus at work in us. God wants to move into your heart and live with you.

God As a Trinity of Persons - Some Resources

Michael Brown - "Are You a 'Trinitarian'?"

William Lane Craig, "A Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of the Trinity."

Wayne Grudem - Systematic Theology, Chapter 14.

Wayne Grudem - Christian Beliefs, Chapter 3.

Roger Olson - Finding God In the Shack.  Chapter 3. 

Michael Reeves - Delighting In the Trinity

Stephen Seamands - Ministry In the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Worship.

"The Shack" (movie)

Trinities: Theories About the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (website)

Peter Williams - Understanding the Trinity

READ THEM in this order.

1. Begin with the Brown video.
2. Read the Williams article.
3. Read the Grudem chapter in Christian Beliefs
4. Read Ch. 4 in Grudem's Systematic Theology.
5. Take a break and read Goodnight Moon.
6. Read the Seamands book for excellent practical application!
7. Watch "The Shack."
8. Read Ch. 3 in Olson.
9. Check out the Reeves book.
10. Brew a pot of extra strong coffee.
11. Read Craig's article.

How I Prepare for a Sermon

1.  I print out the text and carry it with me throughout the week.

2.   I meditate on the text. I read it over and over and over. I let it get into me. As I am doing this, God speaks to me. I write down what God says to me.

3.   I ask these questions:
a.   What is the text saying?
b.   What is the text saying to me?
c.   What will this text say to our people?

4.   I study the text.
a.   I use biblical commentaries.
b.   The rule is: not just any commentary will do. Find trusted Jesus-following scholars who have invested their lives in studying the text. I have a list of trusted names. E.g.:
                                         i.    Craig Keener
                                        ii.    Ben Witherington
                                       iii.    Richard Bauckham
                                      iv.    Craig Evans
                                       v.    R.T. France
                                      vi.    Gordon Fee
                                     vii.    Andreas Kostenberger
                                   viii.    Joel Green
                                      ix.    N.T. Wright
                                       x.    And so on…
                                      xi.    And people the above scholars recommend.
               xii. Note: some scholars are especially excellent in certain biblical books because they have invested a lot of their lives in them. For example, Gordon Fee is especially valuable on 1 Corinthians.
                     For more help see
c.   When God speaks to me while I am studying the commentaries, I write it down.
d.   I take notes on the commentaries. These notes appear in my sermon notes. 

5.   As I am doing these two things – meditation on the text, and study of the text – I type out the sermon, word-for-word, that God wants to speak through me.

6.   I take these notes and walk with them…, reading them over and over…  take drives in the car with them… I preach them. It always happens that, while doing this, God preaches to me. This usually gets very emotional for me. I feel passion building towards the text and what God has said, what God is saying to me, and what God is going to say and do on Sunday morning.

7.   When I preach on Sunday morning I want to know that I have given my entire self to preparing for this message. I never step up to preach without having given it my all. Average sermon preparation time for me each week is 10-20 hours. 

8.   I feel a holy responsibility in preaching. I do not want to lead my people in the wrong direction. Therefore, I study long and hard. And, I pray through the text,

9.   I always have the expectation that God is going to show up, and make my mere human words into words from Him, for us all.

10.               With my focus on meditating on the text, and studying the text, and praying the text, my belief is that God, in the sermon, will give me and my people words from Him that are rooted in Scripture but are extrabiblical revelation – viz., “now-words from God.”

11.               As I preach I give God the right to lead me, even into things I have not yet thought of. Usually, God does a fair amount of slicing and dicing my message into His message.

12.               If my people are spoken to by God, rather than being impressed with some “great sermon,” then I know the real thing has happened.

13.               I assume and expect God will do something through the preached Word. I am alert and attuned to this. Sometimes, even while preaching the message, I don’t know what God will do when the message is done. At other times I have a strong sense of what God wants to do, and I lead my people in this. In no way do I think I’m going to end the message with an “Amen” and then say “We’re out of here.” The preached word is going to bear fruit in people’s lives, immediately. The preacher needs to respond to this, and lead their people. 

Pregnancy Time: Being Present to God's Presence

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Fort Street Presbyterian Church, Detroit
Two Greek words are used in the Bible for "time." One is chronos. This refers to "clock time," such as, It is now 7 AM

Chronos is used in Matthew 2:7: Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.

And in Acts 1:6: Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

And in several other places.

The second Greek word for "time" is kairos. This refers to "God's timing," in the sense of "the right time," "the opportune time." Just the right moment. Things are coming to a head.

Kairos is used in Matthew 11:25: At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

And in Romans 5:6: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

And in several other places.

Kairos is used when God breaks through and interrupts ordinary time. 

Eugene Peterson writes:

"Time. But not just time in general, abstracted to a geometric grid on a calendar or numbers on a clock face, but what the Greeks named kairos, pregnancy time, being present to the Presence. I never know what is coming next; “Watch therefore.”"  (Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir, pp. 7-8)

It is now 7:10 AM. Clock time marches on.

God will give birth to many things today. This day will be filled with the surprises of God. I never know what is coming next.

Breaking Free from Entitlement and Narcissism (Two Sermons)

Image result for john piippo redeemer
Redeemer Church, Monroe

My powerpoint slide for each sermon are with the audio - click on the red icon.

My two books are:

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

Putting Jesus' Words into Practice Has Brought Stability to Me

Michigan spring flowers

I began this Monday by reading more of the Gospel of Matthew, then a section of Proverbs (in The Message). 

I then opened Hearing God Through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional, by Dallas Willard. God speaks to me through this book!

I am also slowly re-reading The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson.  Peterson's idea of what a pastor is guides me.  

As I slow-cook in these resources, God talks with me. I write down what I hear God saying. Almost always, this is about me, what God is telling me, how he is leading me, and correcting me.

This morning I read Matthew 7:24. Jesus says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock."

Hearing the words of Jesus without living them out means nothing.

Putting Jesus' words into practice is wisdom, because it brings stability. 

I am certain there is more for me here. I am also certain that I have applied much over forty-eight years of following Jesus, and that my life has been greatly grounded and stabilized as a result. 

My two books are:

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