Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Miroslav Volf On the Meaning of Work

Miroslav Volf's A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good is a beautiful read! Chapter 1 is worth the price of the entire book - on the nature of "prophetic religion," with the double-movement of "ascent" and "descent," both of which are needed, and needed in a certain way. 

In Ch. 2 Volf writes of the meaning of labor, of work. Here he ties work in with the existential matters of life's meaning and purpose. 

"There are many possible ways of construing the meaning of work. One purpose that immediately comes to mind is to put bread on the table—and a car into the garage or an art object into the living room, some may add. Put more abstractly, the purpose of work is to take care of the needs of the person who does it... But when we consider taking care of ourselves as the main purpose of work, we unwittingly get stuck on the spinning wheel of dissatisfaction. What we possess always lags behind what we desire, and so we become victims of Lewis Carroll’s curse, “Here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.” In our quiet moments, we know that we want our lives to have weight and substance and to grow toward some kind of fullness that lies beyond ourselves. Our own selves, and especially the pleasures of our own selves, are insufficient to give meaning to our lives. When the meaning of work is reduced to the well-being of the working self, the result is a feeling of melancholy and unfulfillment, even in the midst of apparent success." (Kindle Location 639)

The antidote to the "rat race" and boredom of work is to live for "some kind of fullness that lies beyond ourselves."

For example, live for this cause.

The Importance and Power of Knowing Our Identity in Christ - Conference in New Jersey

This coming Fri-Sat-Sun I'll be near Newark, NJ speaking at a conference on "The Importance and Power of Knowing Our Identity in Christ."

Where: Stelton Baptist Church, Edison, New Jersey

I’ll be preaching and teaching on:

Fri. night, May 29 – “You Have a Soul and Have Been Created in God’s Image.” 7 PM.
Saturday morning, May 30 – Workshop: “What Transformation Into Christlikeness Looks Like.” 9:30-11 AM.
Saturday night, May 30 – “The Importance and Power of Knowing Who I Am in Christ” 7 PM.
Sunday Morning, May 31 – “How to Life a Life of Meaning and Purpose” 11 AM.
Sunday night, May 31 – “How to Be Set Free from Self-Condemnation”  7 PM.

Contact: Pastor Louis Ao, 732-985-1484  
Stelton Baptist Church
334 Plainfield Avenue
Edison, New Jersey

Deeper Bible Study: Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel


Deeper Bible Study (DBS) is something I've started with people in our Redeemer Church family. 


  • to more fully engage our people in study of the Bible.
  • to prepare people to hear the biblical texts preached on Sunday mornings.
  • to provide guides to study the Bible more deeply.

This coming Sunday Pastor Joe Atkinson will preach on Revelation Chapter 4 - the great throne room scene (the entire chapter). The following Sunday morning, June 7, I will preach again on Rev. 4. Joe and I are coordinating this. 

For Revelation 4:

  1. Copy the chapter and carry it with you. Read it slowly, over and over.
  2. The commentaries I am referring to in preaching through Revelation are found here.
  3. How to use Google books to study Revelation is found here

Summer DBS Study - the Books of Daniel and Ezekiel

Welcome to those of you who will be studying these books with me who are from outside our church!

I'm going to begin my Daniel-Ezekiel studies beginning June 8. (This weekend I'm speaking in New Jersey, and then Linda and I will be taking a week of vacation - back June 6.)

My way of doing this will be:

  1. Read through the book of Daniel, slowly.
  2. I'll keep a "Daniel Journal," recording thoughts, insights, and questions that come to me.
  3. I've purchased one commentary for my studies: The NIV Application Commentary: Daniel, by Tremper Longman. 
  4. I'll use Google books for further studies as needed.
  5. I will especially look at verses in Daniel that form a background for understanding Revelation better.
  6. I'll make posts on my blog and send you teaching and other insights I have about Daniel.
  7. If you are in the Monroe area I'm going to host 2 or 3 get-togethers to look at Daniel, and then at Ezekiel.

The commentary I'll be using to study Ezekiel is: The NIV Application Commentary: Ezekiel, by Iain Duguid.

I'm so glad you will be studying these biblical books with me this summer!

Please send any thoughts or comments or questions you have as we go through this.



P.S. - If you want to do this with me send me an email at:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Friends as Signposts Pointing to God

Bike trail up the hill at Munson Park, Monroe

Les and Leslie Parrott teach us that: "If you try to find intimacy with another person before achieving a sense of identity on your own, all your relationships become an attempt to complete yourself." Two relationship lies are:

1. I need this person to be complete.

2. If this person needs me, I'll be complete.

- From Real Relationships, Chapter 1, by Les and Leslie Parrott.

"It is only when we no longer compulsively need someone that we can have a real relationship with them."
- Anthony Storr, in Ib.

Henri Nouwen echoes this when he writes: "The power of friendship is great if it doesn’t find all its meaning in itself." (Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, p. 72) People who expect too much from each other can do each other harm. "Disappointment and bitterness can overpower love and even replace it." (Ib.)

But, "friends may be guides who see what we may not be able to see ourselves/" (Ib.) A good friend is not God, but can function as a signpost pointing towards God. This is about two basic truths:

  • I cannot change people, and people cannot change me.
  • God can use me to influence people towards him, as God has used certain people to influence me towards him.
I often thank God for those people he has placed in my life, through whom he has effected needed change in me.

Prayer, Presence, and Absence (PrayerLife)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Remembering (Combating Spiritual Alzheimer's)

Del & Linda

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.

One afternoon Linda, her mother Martha, her father Del, and I were shopping in a mall. At one point Linda and Del 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 panic, and asked "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 asked, "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 calming down, then forgetting and filled with fear, asking "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, Alzheimer's or not.

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 remembtance. The Jewish festivals are remember-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 the past is recounted, how God delivered their people out of bondage in Egypt. This remembering, which reminds them of God's past faithfulness, brings fresh hope.

My spiritual journal functions as the written memory of the voice and deeds of God in my life. I take time 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 many prayers. I re-read of past times when I was afraid, or worried, and then re-read how God came through and my worry dissipated.

I do not, I will not, forget the deeds of the Lord in my life. The spiritual discipline of remembering brings renewed hope in the present, defeating the onset of spiritual Alzheimer's disease.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Marriage - Only a Piece of Paper?

Us, a looong time ago.

If marriage is only a piece of paper, why not sign it?

Marriage is a covenant. A marriage welds a man and a woman together for as long as they both shall live.

The marriage covenant is sealed before God, family, and friends. When you say to your significant other "I will be loyal to you for better for worse, in sickness and in health, whether rich or poor, until death separates us" we all hear you. You promise this, before us. This is the power of community. Marriage covenant making is tribal. "We" are to hold one another accountable. We ask you - "Is your word any good?" "Can we hold you to your promise?"

This is not for everybody. It's only for those who desire life-long unions and who keep their promises to stay in marital union, regardless of the circumstances. God welds (yes, that is precisely the biblical word Jesus uses) two people together, which is why anyone or anything that tries to tear asunder the covenant-made marriage will do great destruction. (Yes, Jesus gives an exception - which is adultery, the weld-breaker.)

When Linda and I signed the piece of paper forty two years ago we were among those who meant it.

See also:

More Than a Piece of Paper, Marriage Is About THE BOND

Friday, May 22, 2015

Praying on the "Thank God Ledge" (PrayerLife)

Several years ago I watched a "60 Minutes" segment that fully engaged me. I dvr-ed it and showed it to several people. It was on rock climber Alex Honnold's "free solo" of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Half Dome is a nearly vertical 2000-foot sheer granite wall. Alex climbs it... without the assistance of ropes or harness. It's just him, his hands, and his tennis shoes. It made me nervous watching him, even though I knew he survived. The shots of him clinging to the wall, with the trees and river a half mile below him, are astounding.

No one else in the world has done this. Perhaps no one else can. Alex's focus is amazing! One cannot help but think: one mistake and you are dead. No second chance. It's either perfection and completeness or total failure. This sport is unforgiving. To conquer Half Dome you have to be perfect.

Nine-tenths of the way up Half Dome there is a place climbers call "Thank God Ledge." This ledge is a 35-foot-long ramp that is anywhere from 5 to 12 inches wide. If a climber can get himself on this ledge he can jam his fingers into small cracks in the wall and "take a break." "Thank God Ledge" is a place of relief. It's a slim moment of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Alex Honnold on
Thank God Ledge
Fortunately, when it comes to God, it's all about forgiveness, mercy, and grace. In Matthew 18 we read: "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."" (vv. 21-22) Which means: we just keep on forgiving other people when they fail and when they fall. Why? Because we have been forgiven. Of much. Paul writes, in Colossians 3:13: "Forgive as you have been forgiven."

Thank God that he is forgiving! His forgiveness is not narrow. God's love is wide. Back in the 70s I wrote a song called "How Many Times?" The words go: "How many times we all fall down, broken and bent by the wind. How many times His love comes down, lifts us up again." In the forgiveness of the Cross God has placed us on "Thank God Ledge." When we experience his forgiveness we are lifted up to this place of beauty and rest. It is a place of restoration and healing. When experienced and understood, it provokes praise. When we forgive others we invite them to join us in this place. Unforgiveness lets people fall to their destruction. Forgiveness rescues.

In the Cross of Christ you have been conquered by God.

There's plenty of room on Thank God Ledge. Pray there.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Presence-Driven Church Does Not Try to Program God

Here are some things I know about logic, as it is understood in philosophy. (For 15 years I've taught Logic at Monroe County Community College.) I'm going to use them to talk about the Christian theistic idea of "being led by the Holy Spirit."
  • Logic is about arguments - formulating and evaluating them.
  • When philosophers use the word "rational," they mostly mean "logical." by "logical" they mean certain specific things. You can find these things in a basic logic text. For nine years I used Hurley's classic A Concise Introduction to Logic. It's a great text, but has no colorful pictures or funny jokes. So a few years ago I switched to Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking: Effective Reasoning About Ordinary and Extraordinary Claims.  Vaughn is excellent on informal logical fallacies, and especially wonderful on "the subjectivist fallacy." Most students freak out and need cognitive therapy after being introduced to the subjectivist and genetic fallacies, since they form the heart and soul of their own "logical reasoning." When I teach those sections I feel like Klaatu in the original "The Day the Earth Stood Still," trying to explain to the students that the core of their thinking is illogical. 
  • Logical arguments are composed of statements. A statement is a sentence that is either true or false; or, put another way, a statement is a sentence that describes a state of affairs. Using logic one can reason that State of Affairs X either obtains or does not obtain. Not all sentences make truth claims. Requests, for example, are neither true nor false. If we're out for dinner and I request "Please pass the salt," you're irrational if you answer "That's false."
  • An argument has one (and only one) conclusion. In this way, at least in logic, multi-tasking does not apply, as if one could give one argument that logically leads to ten conclusions. An argument has at least one supporting premise. That premise should have a "claim of inference," meaning: if the premise is true, then the conclusion follows, either necessarily or probably. The classic Aristotelian argument form is called modus ponens, which means: to affirm the antecedent. It goes: 1) If A, then B. 2) A (the antecedent is affirmed). 3) Therefore, B. Like: 1) If it rains, the ground gets wet. 2) It's raining. 3) Therefore, the ground gets wet. Using a Jesus-example, consider this. 1) If you love me, you will keep my commands. 2) You love me. 3) Therefore you are keeping my commands. Just as certainly as raining makes the ground wet.
  • Arguments are either deductive or inductive. A deductive argument is one such that if the premise or premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. ("Must" = "necessarily.") An inductive argument is one such that if the premise or premises are true, then the conclusion probably, more or less (depending on the claim of inference in the premises), is true. Such as: 1) I am now writing this piece on my laptop. 2) I intend to finish the piece with a half hour. 3) Therefore the piece will be finished in a half hour. The conclusion is only probably true, since there are a number of reasons that could come against my finishing the piece. I may be interrupted, for example. Or, I may die before I finish, in which case you would not even know I was writing the piece in the first place.
  • Humans are wired to think logically. There's a current debate on the nature of such wiring. Stephen Pinker says that logic is hard-wired, neurally, in our physical brains. It's really hard to think non-logically, even when one's logic is twisted or confused, just as one could add a column of numbers and get the wrong total. If one were to argue against the reality of the innateness of logic then one would have to use logic to arrive at the conclusion, which might be: Logic does not exist. The truths of logic function like "properly basic beliefs." 
  • We are logical beings. Our logical ability allows us to predict and conclude many things. We do it all the time. Logic gives us a sense of control and security. In this regard note the inner chaos that results in fictional characters like "Alice" who enter a world where (but not entirely) logic seems not to apply. Were our lives like that, instability would be the norm. Logic helps to stabilize things. If I know that if it rains the ground gets wet, and also know that it's raining, I (logically) will not go out to water the lawn. That may seem simple but it's not simplistic. We take it for granted. Were this not so, and if we did not have logical capacities, we'd all be out watering our lawns in Seattle in the winter during the rainy season..
  • "Life" is not all logical. There are many things we cannot conclude. One of them is, speaking from the POV of Christian theism, what is called the "leading of the Holy Spirit." It is important to understand this, because if it is not understood then one will try to make sense of the Spirit in terms of human logic. That would be fatal to real, full life in the Spirit. This mistake leads to "the program-driven church."
  • At the heart of the biblical Book of Acts is the person of the Holy Spirit. In Acts the "acts" of the Jesus-followers (e.g., the "apostles," the "sent-from-God-ones") are grounded in the leading of the Holy Spirit. A paradigm case of this is found in Acts 10, the story of Cornelius the Roman centurion.
  • God sends an angel to Cornelius, who is a pagan God-fearer. Cornelius is more than interested in the God of Judaism. He worships and prays constantly, and participates in the regular, daily Jewish prayer times. He gives generously to the poor. The angel appears to Cornelius and says: "Cha-ching! Your prayers and offering to the poor have registered as a memorial offering before God!" In other words, "Cornelius, what you are doing is acceptable to God." 
  • The angel instructs Cornelius to send three men thirty miles south of Caesarea to Joppa, to a man's house by the sea whose name is Simon the Tanner. Simon, aka Peter, is there. The angel says - "Bring Peter to your home. He has something to tell you." Cornelius obeys. But note this: Peter knows nothing about this. He has no rational premises from which to conclude anything. He's sitting on the rooftop of Simon the T's house, hungry as the meal is being prepared. Then God gives Peter a vision. This is the unbeknownst-to-Peter orchestrating activity of God. God has the Big Picture. God waved his conductor's baton over Cornelius, and now points it thirty miles to the south over the heart and mind of Peter. God's got a little symphony going on here, and is directing Cornelius and Peter.
  • God gives Peter the shocking, paradigm-shattering-and-shifting vision of the unclean animals. "Eat them, Peter," the voice from heaven says. "No way!" respond Peter. The voice says, "Don't call things unacceptable that I have called acceptable." OK. Peter sits there, stunned. Meanwhile, the three non-logical men from Caesarea come knocking on Simon the T's door. Peter comes down from the roof. He does not know why they are there. He concludes nothing.
  • The men tell Peter about their master, Cornelius, and about the dream Cornelius had. Peter then concludes something. Somehow, perhaps by experience or intuition, he sees the orchestrating hand of God in this. He goes with them, into the unknown. There is some reasoning going on here, but it's like this: 1) I think God sent these three men to me. 2) I don't know what for, but I am to go with them, because I think this is God and I trust God. If Peter logically concludes anything here, it's only that "This seems like God to me, so I will trust my intuition. Besides, I just had this shocking, seemingly anti-Jewish dream, and now these guys show up and invite me to take a road trip."
  • Peter arrives at Cornelius's house. His entire household is there, which includes family and soldiers and servants. Peter says, "Uhhh..., you all know a Jewish boy like me is not supposed to be here with pork-eating pagans like you, right? But God told me not to call you 'unclean'. So here I am." Cornelius says, "Now that we're all here in the presence of God, tell us what you are supposed to tell us." If I were Peter I might ask for a few days to put together some notes and an outline and then get back to him. What Peter does is simply open his mouth and begin talking. In doing this he is trusting that this is God, and God is now going to orchestrate and guide and "lead" what God wants to say to these pagans through Peter. There's no planned program here. And it's not been "inferred," in the sense of logical predictablity, which is: given these premises we can conclude this. The only premise needed for Peter is: If this is God, then I will obey. I will follow. But I do not know the logical outcome. I do not know where this is going. In the Book of Acts, this is what it means to be "led by the Spirit." You can't program the Holy Spirit like you can program a thermostat to turn the heat on at 9 AM. Being led by the Spirit is like having a God Positioning System (GPS) that includes your starting point and the next steps to take but does not give you the destination.
  • We see this clearly in what happens next. Peter tells C's household about Jesus, and about forgiveness of sins. As he continues talking the Holy Spirit gets poured out in that place, and C and his household begin praising God and speaking in tongues. This giving of the Holy Spirit is the sign of God's ultimate acceptance. In the giving of the Spirit God says things like, "I've come to make my home in you. I want you to host my presence. You are now a portable sanctuary." Peter not only did not or could not logically predict this outcome, he didn't even recognize initially what was going on as he just kept on preaching. Peter stayed with the program-as-he-knew-it. Then: Deus Interruptus.
This is the non-programmatic "church." 

I'm not against "programs." If God says "start this," then obey. But in my Jesus-following context we don't hand out "programs" with the "order of service" on Sunday mornings, because I do not presume to be able to program the Holy Spirit. 

Do I plan for Sunday morning? Oh yeah. My plan is: abide in Christ; hear his voice; follow; preach...  and remember, John, remember... that God is the Orchestrator, who knows the song he wants his people to sing, So watch the Baton of God closely. Follow. Let God have the baton, for God's sake! Trust. Be led by the Spirit whom humanity foolishly tries to control and predict. Logically conclude only one thing: If this is God, then I'll follow because it's going to be very good.

The Day the Church Stood Still. And God had his way.