Saturday, August 23, 2014

Prayer Is the Glue that Enables Our Freedom (Prayer Summer 2014)


I hear of so much violence through the media that my heart easily becomes desensitized to it. But not this week. I can barely hear of what happened to James Foley. My heart aches and longs as I see his parents and brother, especially how they are expressing their grief and the ways they are talking about their loss.

Their love and grace and lack of vindictiveness makes the whole thing harder for me. Had they responded with the common world-default "eye for an eye" philosophy I would be hating instead of grieving. Pure, unpolluted grief does not hate, but loves.

The Foleys talked with Pope Francis""Pope Francis, like Jesus, loves, like Jim. He understood Jim's heart," Diane Foley said of her son, who "was able to draw strength from prayer" during his capture. She said love and compassion had drawn her son to cover the plight of the people in Syria, which has been embroiled in a violent conflict for the past several years... "We must stand together," Diane Foley said. "Good and love and all that is free in the world must be together to fight the evil and the hatred.""

We are going to fight evil with "good" and "love." That is correct. There is no other way. "Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you." (Jesus.)
Jim Foley was a Jesus-follower who prayed. "Foley was a devout Christian who, unlike most journalists I've known during my almost four decades in the field, was unapologetic about his heart for social justice and the inspiration he found for his beliefs in the New Testament." ("James Foley: Beheading victim had deep faith")
When he was held captive in Libya in 2011 Jim later said that "prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us.” ("Journalist James Foley Turned to Prayer for Strength")
Jim and fellow prisoner Claire "prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone." (From here.)
Jim said "I'd pray to stay strong. I'd pray to soften the hearts of our captors. I'd pray to God to lift the burdens we couldn't handle. And I'd pray that our Moms would know we were OK."
At his life's end on earth James Foley was dressed in orange and a hooded killer beheaded him. One writer concludes: "This time, God did not answer James Foley's prayers. This time, James Foley was not delivered from evil." (Here.) 
But God did, and Jim was. The root of evil lies in the human heart. Jim was delivered from what Thomas Merton referred to as inner "seeds of destruction" and Paul Tournier called "the violence within." As Jesus was free even as he was brutalized, Jim did not succumb and drink from the sickspring of evil. Jesus "loved them to the end." This is the message that comes through Jim's life and family and simultaneously crushes me and gives me hope.
Elisabeth Scalia writes: "Prayer is a subversive means of freedom, at once consoling, engaging and efficacious throughout time and space. It has power, and that power holds, when everything else falls apart." 
Prayer is the glue that enables my freedom and holds me together when everything else falls apart.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Jesus Founded an Unorganized Religion

Real Church is not an "organization." 

It's also not an institution. 

It's not a bureaucracy. 

It's not a democracy. 

It's not a business. 

It's not a branch of government. 

It's not a corporation. 

It's not a club. 

It's not an entertainment center. 

What is this thing called "Church?" Read the Gospels, the book of Acts, the letters of Paul to the churches, and the 7 letters to the churches in the book of Revelation.

Wendell Berry writes:

"As I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here. Well, you can read and see what you think." (Quoted here.)

"Surrendered Life" - Redeemer Church - Sept. 21, 6 PM

Praying for Love to Capture My Imprisoned Heart (Prayer Summer 2014)

Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio
I am praying for love to capture my imprisoned heart.

Power is good. Love is better.

What our diseased world needs now is love.

Thomas Merton writes:

"Now I see more and more that there is only one realistic answer: Love. I have got to dare to love, and to bear the anxiety of self-questioning that love arouses in me, until “perfect love casts out fear.”" (Thomas Merton, Learning To Love: Exploring Solitude and Freedom (The Journals of Thomas Merton), Kindle Locations 857-858, April 25, 1966) 

Love has attributes, which include:

  • is patient
  • is kind
  • does not envy
  • does not boast
  • is not proud
  • does not dishonor others
  • is not self-seeking
  • is not easily angered
  • keeps no record of wrongs
  • does not delight in evil
  • rejoices with the truth
  • always protects
  • always trusts
  • always hopes
  • always perseveres
  • never fails
Love sacrifices self for others. Jesus said "anyone who loves their life will lose it." (John 12:25) And: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:13)

Love's reach is expansive. Jesus said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44) In this way love is power. With love things come together; with war things fall apart.

Love's primal, aboriginal subject is God. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)

"Love" is defined by the being of God. God is love, in essence.

Love makes no rational sense without God. Without God, if there is no God, love does not exist. Atheist physicist Stephen Weinberg acknowledges this (see Weinberg, "Without God"). Weinberg's scientism causes him to conclude: "The worldview of science is rather chilling...  the emotions that we most treasure, our love for our wives and husbands and children, are made possible by chemical processes in our brains that are what they are as a result of natural selection acting on chance mutations over millions of years." Weinberg is correct. If there is no God there is no "love," since all our emotions, to include "love," are but chemical processes in our physical brains.

Love looks like Jesus. 

Love, God's love, is the only answer.

Pray for this, in you.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mathematical Platonism as a Contemporary Example of Plato's Theory of Ideas

Comerica Park, Detroit

I'm prepping for the Intro to Western Philosophy class I'm teaching this fall at MCCC. The first section will be on ancient Greek philosophy - Pre-Socratic, Plato, and Aristotle. I'll be giving contemporary examples that illustrate the relevance of what the ancient Greek thinkers were dealing with.

The current example I'm using for the relevance of Plato's Theory of Ideas is mathematical Platonism. Today I am especially looking at University of Toronto philosopher James Robert Brown's Philosophy of Mathematics: A Contemporary Introduction to the World of Proofs and Pictures. Chapter Two is entitled "Platonism."

This was the chapter that "disturbed" Massimo Pigliucci. (See here.) Pigliucci writes:

"If one ‘goes Platonic’ with math [note: a number of mathematicians are mathematical Platonists], one has to face several important philosophical consequences, perhaps the major one being that the notion of physicalism goes out the window. Physicalism is the position that the only things that exist are those that have physical extension [ie, take up space] – and last time I checked, the idea of circle, or Fermat’s theorem, did not have physical extension. It is true that physicalism is now a sophisticated doctrine that includes not just material objects and energy, but also, for instance, physical forces and information. But it isn’t immediately obvious to me that mathematical objects neatly fall into even an extended physicalist ontology. And that definitely gives me pause to ponder."

The logic of mathematical Platonism runs like this. Brown cites the connection between Platonism and semantic theory. He writes:

"Let us suppose the sentence 'Mary loves ice cream' is true. What makes it so? In answering such  question we'd say 'Mary' refers to the person Mary, 'ice cream' to the substance, and 'love' refers to a particular relation which holds between Mary and ice cream. It follows rather trivially from this that Mary exists. If she didn't, then 'Mary loves ice cream' couldn't be true, any more than 'Phlogiston is released on burning' could be true when phlogiston does not exist.

The same semantical considerations imply Platonism. Consider the following true sentences: '7+5 = 12', and '7 >12'. Both of these require the number 7 to exist, otherwise the sentences would be false. In standard semantics the objects denoted by singular terms in true sentences ('Mary', '7') exist. Consequently, mathematical objects do exist." (Brown, 13)

So, the number '7', and 'pi', and you-number-it, exist. But where? Surely, not in physical reality. I just hit the number 7 key on my keyboard. The number 7 key exists physically. But I won't be hitting the number 7 anytime in the future.

So Brown states: "Mathematical objects are outside space and time." (Ib.) They are non-physical, abstract objects with ontological status.

Praying for Selfishness to Be Morphed Into Sacrifice (Prayer Summer 2014)

Monroe County

Thomas Merton describes his birth in his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain.

"On the last day of January 1915... I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, on the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of hell, full of men like myself, loving God and yet hating Him; born to love Him, living instead in fear and hopeless self-contradictory hungers." (A Thomas Merton Reader, 27)

We're all born into a world of violence and selfishness. Every child born as I now type enters a world where there is Isis, Gaza, ebola, Ferguson, and the many headlines reporting the same. Our world is a mixture of evil and good, with evil at times seeming to have the upper hand.

This is the world that will shape today's newborns into its mold. The antidote to this is the promise of a spiritual metamorphosis, enabled by the Spirit of God. This is the transformation Romans 12:1-2 sets before me.

Pray for violence to be morphed into love, and for selfishness to be morphed into sacrifice.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"God's Not Dead" - At Redeemer, Sept. 6

We're showing the movie God's Not Dead" at Redeemer.

When: Sat., Sept. 6, 6 PM.

Cost: Free.

I will lead a Q&A following the movie.

We'll serve refreshments afterwards.

I've reviewed it here.

If you are skeptical about God's existence, or have friends who are, bring them to the movie and be ready to ask questions afterwards - I'd love to have them there!

5 American Myths of Successful Churches

'91 Ford Aerostar

I'm theologically in sync with Joseph Mattera's "Five American Myths of Successful Churches and Ministries." He writes: "Many of the ways American churches measures success are in fact direct violations of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 23. In this passage Jesus speaks against people loving titles, celebrity status, and desiring prominent places in public events."

The 5 Myths are:

  1. The size of the church shows success. The American church often measures itself numerically and monetarily. The early church did not. Paul's leading question to his churches (Ephesus, et. al.) was not: "How big is your church? Mattera writes: "Unfortunately many saints with low self-esteem or ego need to attend one of these “successful” churches because they feel it gives them status. This is a far cry from the early church that numbered in the thousands after the Day of Pentecost because of mass conversions and the contemporary persecuted church (for example, in Muslim nations) who often meet from house-to-house, break bread, and covenant with one another as brothers and sisters, and are willing to risk their lives for the gospel by being baptized!
    I am all for explosive church growth: the kind of church growth that involves mostly new converts rather than transfer growth."
  2. The amount of the budget shows success. The apostle Paul never asked his churches "What's the size of your budget?" As if budget size was some indicator of "success." How could that be, since most of the first churches had no money! By American cultural standards they were failures.
  3. The celebrity status of the leader shows success. In America we have a celebrity cult. In the early church people like the apostle Paul were relative cultural unknowns. So what? It did not seem to bother Paul that he was not posterized. Mattera writes: "In the past 30-plus years of full-time ministry I have seen many people who call themselves apostle, bishop, chaplain, or reverend who did not have the ministry, training, or the fruit to back it up." 
  4. The title of the leader shows success. "Many believers equate success with the status that comes with a title."
  5. The affluent lifestyle of the leader shows success. For many years I drove a rusted out '91 Ford Aerostar. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pray to Be Filled With the Fullness of God (Prayer Summer 2014)

Cape May, New Jersey

Love and power do things. New Testament scholar Klyne Snodgrass writes that “To know Christ’s love is to be transformed by love and expanded into the fullness of God.” In other words there is an extraordinary power available to believers, a power that can and will accomplish far more than we ordinarily think or imagine. It comes by the Spirit. It accords with the riches of God's glory. John Piper says this "is the very fullness of God, as humanly unimaginable as that sounds."

So Paul kneels. And prays these words…

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

This is why the early church exploded. People were filled with love, power, and the fullness of God. This is not about a program or formula. You don’t need money to do it. It's all about cultivating the relationship. As N.T. Wright says, this “means knowing God as the all-loving, all-powerful father; it means putting down roots into that love - or, changing the picture, having that love as the rock-solid foundation for every aspect of one's life." (NTW, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 39-40)

Today, pray to know who you are in Christ, and all that is available to you.

Praying and Poverty

South Central Kenya
I embarrassed myself when I was in Kenya. It was at the Pastor’s Conference in Eldoret. I was with sixty wonderful men and women from Kenya and Uganda. They were all pastors who are part of New Life Mission, a network of over 150 churches in Kenya and Uganda. I ate many meals with them. The meals were real Kenyan food – vegetables, cooked raw bananas, rice, maize… I loved eating these!

I noticed that some of the pastors took very full plates of food. A lot more food than I took. I made a joke, saying “Kenyans and Ugandans eat a lot but still are slim and run so fast!” (Some of the world’s greatest long-distance runners train in Eldoret.) Later my host, Cliff, gently informed me that one reason these men and women put a lot of food on their plates is because, for the most part, they only eat two meals a day. So when they have a chance to eat, they eat a lot.

My heart sank. Who am I, what have I become, that I am so out of touch? The prayers of many Kenyans and Ugandans is that they would have food to eat today. I, on the other hand, fight overeating. My problem is not trying to secure my next meal. It's that there is so much food around me and before me that my “prayer” is that I not overeat.

Back in the land of over-plenty, over-eating, and struggling to diet, I am being processed by God. I do not know how it’s all going to shake down for me. Here are some things God is revealing to me.

1. I am not to see someone who has no food and thank God that I have food. I am to thank God for food, for a roof over my head, for clothing. But this thanks is not to come at the expense of someone else’s lack. There is something evil about this. It uses another person’s bondage as an occasion for rejoicing. Jesus never looked on hungry people and said, “Thank God that I am God and am not like these hungry people.” Instead, he had compassion on them. He became one of them, for “the Son of Man had no roof over his head.” I must be praying for God’s mercy rather than giving thanks that I am not among the mercy-deprived. I am not to be like the Pharisee who prayed, “I thank you, God, that I am not like other people.”

2. If the thought comes to me "Thank God that I have more than these poor people" I  must assume this is God calling me to help. Why would God show me a person poorer than I as a means of making me feel thankful? I must understand that authentic thankfulness results in overflowing, sacrificial giving. To those who have much and thank God for it, much is expected. Thankfulness is hypocritical and meaningless if it does not overflow to others. Pure Pharisaic “thankfulness” thanks God that I am not poor; true thankfulness to God impacts the poor. Self-centered gratefulness is faux-gratitude.

3. At one of our Redeemer worship services God was processing me about these things. It was a beautiful time of worship and intentional thanksgiving to God for how he has blessed us as a church family. That day God told me this: “John, when you see someone who has nothing and give thanks for what you have that they don’t have, that is the spirit of poverty on you.” A spirit of poverty, a spirit of “lack,” whispers to me “You do not have enough.” This heart of not-enough-ness, when it sees someone worse off than me, feels thankful. This is the spirit of poverty’s solution to my dilemma; viz., to keep me perpetually enslaved to a poverty mentality by comparing me with others. Some people drive a new car and I feel deprived; some people have no car and I feel thankful. A spirit of poverty is never satiated, and in this way it continuously punishes. When I feel thankful when I see someone who has no food it is because I feel I do not have enough myself. I think, “Whew, I’m not so bad off after all!” One only says those words if one feels, after all, “bad off.” Real thanksgiving has nothing to do with any of this. I confess I’ve been living under a spirit of poverty and now revolt against it.

I’m praying for a true heart of thanksgiving, because it has been revealed to me that I do not yet have it. My God, who loves me in my weakness, desires to address this.