Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Sole Purpose of a Follower of Jesus


Window, in Columbus, Ohio

Many years ago a church in our county advertised itself as "The Friendliest Church in America." In all of America?! When this advertisement appeared in our local paper I wanted to proclaim, "We're #2!"

Recently I read that another area church's basic mission was to be "friendly."

I think that's commendable. 

"Loving" is probably better than "friendly." Both are better than "happy." ("The Happiest Church in America?" I doubt it.)  But these are NOT the mission of the Church. 

Richard Stearns has it correct. He writes:

"In all my years as a Christian, I have listened to thousands of sermons, and I can’t remember even one that fully explained to me that the central mission of Christ and the purpose he gave to his church was to proclaim, establish, and build God’s kingdom on earth. Nor have I ever heard that the sole purpose of my life as a follower of Jesus is to join him in this mission; that this is the very reason I was created. Somehow that baby got thrown out with the bathwater in my Christian education." (Stearns, Unfinished, pp. 56-57)

This is shocking, since Stearns, as the head of World Vision, has experienced global Christianity like few have. It's also eye-opening since all we've been preaching and teaching at Redeemer over the past fifteen years is Jesus and the Kingdom. Preach through the four gospels, as we did for seven years, and you'll see the "kingdom of God" all over the place. 

The idea of the kingdom of God is the hermeneutical key to understanding the Real Jesus. Read the gospels for yourself and see.

"Most American Christians," writes Stearns, "have embraced a diminished view of the fullness of the gospel, or good news, of the story and message of Christ." (Ib., p. 58)

"Unfinished might just challenge everything you thought you understood about your Christian faith...If every Christian read this book and took it seriously, the world would never be the same again."
—Bill Hybels, senior pastor, Willow Creek Community Church

***
My new book is: Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

54 Big Ideas About Prayer

Linda, in Detroit

These are from my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God. (Kindle version HERE.)

1.  You will learn more about prayer by actually praying than you can get from a book.
2.  Prayer is talking with God about what God and I are thinking and doing together.
3.  Praying is revolutionary activity whereby I revolt against the kingdom of this world as I meet with the true Lord of heaven and earth.
4.  If you believe God is all-powerful and all-knowing, then you believe God is powerful enough and knows enough to address your struggles.
5.  If you believe that God is all-loving, then you believe that God desires to address your struggles.
6.  What we think about God affects how we worship and pray.
7.  Prayer is not a religious duty, something I “have” to do, but a relationship with God.
8.  In praying I must let go of control and trust God.
9.  The focus of praying is not prayer itself, but God.
10.             I can meet God at a conference. I can also meet the same God wherever I am.
11.             Assume God is doing something in you, now.
12.             Praying is the act of interfacing this world with the kingdom of God.
13.             I can hear the voice of God, speaking to me.
14.             Hearing God’s voice is a function of intimacy with God.
15.             Humility is needed to hear the voice of God.
16.             Discernment is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God, both in the ordinary moments of life and in the larger decisions of life.
17.             As intimacy with God increases, discernment increases.
18.             Discerning should always come before deciding.
19.             In praying, God changes me.
20.             I pray to be able to see God’s Bigger Picture of my life and reality.
21.             I pray for my heart to be shaped into a heart of God’s love.
22.             Praying for people is a God-given, holy burden.
23.             In praying I bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
24.             I pray for others because I believe that where prayer focuses, power falls.
25.             Blessed are the mono-taskers, for they shall see God.
26.             Praying is a slow-cooker, not a microwave.
27.             Teaching people to pray in solitude is one of the greatest needs and challenges of the church today.
28.             Solitary times with God prepare us for fellowship with people.
29.             If you commit to praying God will lead you deeper into community.
30.             One’s personal prayer life can never be understood if it is separated from community life.
31.             In praying we cry for the in-breaking of the kingdom into the brokenness of the present.
32.             In praying God aligns our heart with his kingdom heart.
33.             To pray is to explore and venture into the vast, limitless regions of God’s beautiful kingdom.
34.             Authentic praying is an act of self-denial.
35.             To pray is to let go of control.
36.             When God reveals personal faults it is never to condemn us, but only to rescue us.
37.             There is a “spiritual Alzheimer’s disease” which results in forgetting the many times God has rescued and delivered us.
38.             A main antidote to fear is remembering.
39.             In praying I enumerate things I am thankful for and give thanks to God.
40.             I pray because Jesus prayed.
41.             I pray for protection and guidance.
42.             In praying I am detoxified and released from burdens.
43.             Renewal can begin with one follower of Jesus, praying.
44.             The more Westernized a person is, the less they pray.
45.             Prayvailing – Travailing prayer brings prevailing in a person’s life.
46.             I need to set aside some time very day for active talking and listening to God. Just ten minutes each day can bring about a radical change in my life.
47.             Nothing can stop me from praying today.
48.             If I humble myself and pray, turning from any wicked ways, God will hear from heaven and heal the land.
49.             The antidote to spiritual burnout is time alone with God, praying.
50.             Pray even when, especially when, it seems or feels like God is absent.
51.             God isn’t in a panic room when you or I have doubts.
52.             Life is best lived when death is acknowledged.
53.             Kick the “bucket list” and live for a greater purpose.
54.             How a life begins and ends is important. Don’t forget the ending part. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Faith Must Have Real-World Consequences or It Is Worthless (The Presence-Driven Church)

Store under a spirit of delusion, Bangkok
If our church was a plane, then its two wings might be called "academic" and "experiential." At Redeemer we preach through the biblical texts, verse by verse. I (and others who preach) study like crazy in preparation for preaching. We understand the importance of situating the biblical text in context, so as to understand the meaning of the verses. As Ben Witherington has said, a text without a context is just a pretext for something you want to say.

And, we expect God to move, to do things, as a result of the presentation of the Word. 

  1. Study hard, so as to rightly handle the word of God. 
  2. Expect God to act. 

Academics without experience is dry, mere theory; experience without academics is heretical.

Experience trumps academics, at least in order of ontological priority. Experience, not theory, breeds conviction. Augustine's famous "Credo, ut intelligam" ("I believe in order to understand") means, to me: "I experienced something that I think is God; now I study so as to better understand this experience."

  1. God acts.
  2. I study God's actions so as to understand.


This kind of theological approach to the Jesus-life explains the current explosion of African Pentecostal Christianity. Michael Brown observes this in
"Is African Charismatic Christianity a Counterfeit?" Brown quotes Daniel Kolenda, Reinhard Bonnke's successor: “The Western brand of stale, cold, theoretic and purely cerebral Christianity that Africans have been offered by many of the [Western] evangelical denominations is laughable to them. For Africans, their faith must have real-world consequences or it is worthless.”

Se also Craig Keener's new, brilliant Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost. I've got a copy and am slowly, so slowly (because it is so rich) reading through it. Note: read Scripture in light of Pentecost, rather than reading Pentecost in light of Scripture.
Jesus didn't travel around giving lectures on religious theories. Jesus did teach on God's Kingdom (the rule, or reign of God), and then demonstrated that our God reigns by healing people and delivering people from demons and even raising the dead. At the end of the day this is the kind of stuff I really need. Books may tell me about this and explain this to me, but what I need is the living God to rule in my life in the midst of life's circumstances. 


Theory minus experience is like taking a swimming class and only reading a book called "Theory of Swimming." How weird to "study" swimming from a distance and never get into the pool. Michael Brown writes: "Since Africans see the spiritual realm and natural realm as one, and since they don’t need to be convinced about the reality of demonic spirits, if Jesus is really the Savior, then He also saves from sickness and demonic powers."


Have there been Pentecostal abuses? Of course. Not all that is weird is of God. Have their been evangelical abuses? Of course. Some of us were trained in "Robert's Rules of Order," and the application of British Parliamentary Procedure to the conducting of church meetings. How tragic. How stale. And how confining, since the Holy Spirit's name is not "Robert."


There is an intrinsic unprogrammability and unpredictability in Spirit-led following that no theory can predict, and which no theory can fully understand.


When the Spirit moves in our church context there are always real-world consequences. Were that never so we'd be left with post-Enlightenment reductionistic theological theories like cessationism, where Jesus reigns over the the earth by giving lectures. That's a plane missing one wing, and explains why the African church is flying and the American church is descending.

***

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Peter Singer's Argument for Infanticide




I presented this tonight in one of my MCCC logic classes, as an example of logical argumentation, Peter Singer’s argument for infanticide. Note: I don't advocate infanticide. But Singer's argument is famous, and followed.

Tonight's class discussion was some of the best I've ever had in response to Singer's argument - thank you students!

Singer argues, in his essay “Taking Life: Humans” (1993), that it is morally acceptable to kill, in some cases, disabled infants. (Note: Singer has since refined his views.)

Before I show you the argument, here are some of Singer’s assumptions.

1.   A “person” has self-consciousness.

2.   Fetuses and newborn babies do not possess self-consciousness. They are “merely conscious.”
a. “The fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings.”
4.   “Killing a self-conscious being is a more serious matter than killing a merely conscious being. Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all.”

5.   Being a member of the human species is irrelevant to a baby’s moral status.

6.   A parent may want to “replace” (the “replaceability thesis”) their defective baby with another baby, hopefully to be born.

Singer’s argument in his own words reads:




Or reframed this way.
1.   If we can morally kill a disabled fetus that has no self-consciousness, it follows that we can morally kill a disabled infant that has no self-consciousness.
2.   We can morally kill a disabled fetus that has no self-consciousness.
3.   Therefore, we are morally justified in killing a disabled infant that has no self-consciousness.

Singer is an atheist. He follows real atheism, like that of Nietzsche, who understood that with the loss of Christian theism's metaphysical foundation we've left "the land" and sail on a sea with an "infinite horizon" (the equivalent of "no [moral] land in sight"). So Singer advocates, among other things, "fourth-trimester abortions, i.e., the killing of infants after they are born." Singer writes:

"My colleague Helga Kuhse and I suggest that a period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to life as others... Rats are indisputably more aware of their surroundings, and more able to respond in purposeful and complex ways to things they like or dislike, than a fetus at 10- or even 32-weeks gestation. … The calf, the pig, and the much-derided chicken come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy." (See here, p. 189, fn. 21.)

Surely Singer is right in that, if there is no God, then humans are no different than animals and to think so is to be guilty of species-ism. Ideas like "All men are create equal" and "Human life is precious" make sense on Christianity, but not on atheism.

I've long thought that, were I an atheist, I'd be in the Nietzsche/Singer camp I find it odd and at times humorous when atheists disbelieve in God but co-opt Christian theistic moral values to their advantage, like assuming the special-ness of humans.

My Book + Study Guide - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God



My book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, in paperback HERE and HERE.

as a Kindle book HERE,


and hard cover HERE

I have written a Study Guide to Praying. This guide will not be published as a book, but will be available free as a Word file. It is designed for both individual and group use. 

If you would like a copy of the Study Guide please send me an email. My email address is: johnpiippo@msn.com. 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1– What Is Praying? 
2– Praying And The Nature Of God 
3– Praying As Relationship With God 
4– Praying Is Conferencing With God 
5– Praying And Listening 
6– Praying And Discernment
7– Praying For Myself 
8– Praying For Others 
9– Praying And Mono-Tasking 
10– Praying And Community 
11– Praying And The Kingdom 
12– Praying And Self-Denial 
13– Praying And Remembering 
14– Why I Pray 
15– The Need For Pray-Ers 
16– A Call To Praying 
17– Questions About Praying
18– Prayer And Death: A Note To My Dying Friends

Your Spiritual Base Is More Important Than the Wheelbase On Your Cadillac


"Some of [Dr.] King's most stinging speeches were to members of his own Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, saying 'You spend more money on liquor at your annual convention than you contribute to the NAACP. I know ministers who are more concerned about the wheelbase on their Cadillac than they are on the spiritual base to their commitment to this world."

Branch thinks King's favorite parable was in Luke 16:19-31. We read:

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

The rich man in this parable didn't go to hell because he was rich. He went to hell because he didn't notice the humanity of the man who was begging at his gate.


Lazarus was a man, not a piece of garbage. Lazarus was more important than the rich man's Cadillacs.




Robin Collins's Fine-Tuning Argument for God's Existence

Monroe County Community College
(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students)

Oral Exam Question #5 - Explain Collins's Fine-Tuning Argument for God's existence.

1. Give the "biosphere" example.

2. The universe is analogous to such a biosphere.

3. The universe is "fine-tuned" for our existence. For example, "If gravity did not exist, masses would not clump together to form stars or planets, and hence the existence of complex, intelligent life would be seriously inhibited." (The gravitational constant is an "anthropic coincidence," or "cosmological constant." Stephen Hawking et. al. acknowledge the fine-tuning - see below.)

4. State the argument:



  • Premise 1. The existence of the fine-tuning is not improbable under theism.
  • Premise 2. The existence of the fine-tuning is very improbable under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.
  • Conclusion: From premises (1) and (2) and the prime principle of confirmation, it follows that the fine-tuning data provides strong evidence in favor of the design hypothesis over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.


5. The "prime principle of confirmation" is: whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses,  an observation counts as evidence in favor of the hypothesis under which the observation has the highest probability (or is the least improbable). 

Note: Collins also calls the "prime principle of confirmation" the "likelihood principle."


***
For a more recent discussion see:

Robin Collins, "The Fine-Tuning Argument Is Convincing," and

Victor Stenger, "The Universe Shows No Evidence for Design,"

both essays in Debating Christian Theism, eds. J.P. Moreland, Chad Meister, and Khaldoun A. Sweiss

***
A FEW ADDITIONAL COMMENTS

1. Hawking and Mlodinow's The Grand Design can be understood as an atheistic response to the fine-tuning argument. They acknowledge the appearance of fine-tuning:

"Most of the fundamental constants in our theories appear fine-tuned in the sense that if they were altered by only modest amounts, the universe would be qualitatively different, and in many cases suitable for the development of life. For example, if the other nuclear force, the weak force, were much weaker, in the early universe all the hydrogen in the cosmos would have turned to helium, and hence there would be no normal stars; if it were much stronger, exploding supernovas would not eject their outer envelopes, and hence would fail to seed interstellar space with the heavy elements planets require to foster life. If protons were 0.2 percent heavier, they would decay into neutrons, destabilizing atoms... The emergence of the complex structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile. The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned, and very little in physical law can be altered without destroying the possibility of the development of life as we know it." (Grand Design, 160-161)

But, for Hawking and Mlodinow, "the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit." (165)

Collins responds to this in his essay. For the purposes of our class we will not discuss the multiverse issue, important as it may be.
 
2. The anthropic objections plays an important part in Hawking and Mlodinow's objections to the fine-tuning argument. Collins, in citing John Leslie's "fire squad" analogy, writes:
 
"According to the weak version of so-called  anthropic principle, if the laws of nature were not fine-tuned, we would not be here to comment on the fact.  Some have argued, therefore, that the fine-tuning is not really improbable or surprising at all under atheism, but simply follows from the fact that we exist. The response to this objection is simply to restate the argument in terms of our existence: our existence as embodied, intelligent beings is extremely unlikely under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis (since our existence requires fine-tuning), but not improbable under theism.  Then, we simply apply the prime principle of confirmation to draw the conclusion that our existence strongly confirms theism over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis."

Collins then gives Leslie's example to illustrate this.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

If He Comes, He Will Build It (The Presence-Driven Church)

Ann Arbor

In the movie "Field of Dreams" we heard words that have since been immortalized and even used in Christian circles: "If you build it, he will come." This was about building a baseball diamond in the middle of the Iowa cornfields. When the father finally emerged through the corn rows and played catch with his son, tears came to my eyes. What a meaningful scene. I could not help but think of my dad, playing ball with me.

As beautiful as that is, there is no meaningful analogy between the movie and the father's appearance, and the kingdom of God and God's appearing presence. Spiritually, it's not true that, "If you build it [something, whatever], then God will show up."

But...  When God comes, he will build it. 

Here God's earth-shattering, empowering presence comes first. Wherever God shows up he builds his kingdom, on earth, as it is in heaven. Jesus-followers are invited to join him in The Great Edifying, The Great Upbuilding.

If He comes, he will build it. You will join him in the labor, empowered by God's Spirit.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Prayer Tree and A Holy Indifference

Image result for johnpiippo solitude
Walking through trees in my backyard
Last night, as I was about to teach a class at Redeemer on "Hearing God's Voice," God spoke to me, reminding me of something he showed me over thirty years ago.

When we lived in East Lansing one of my prayer places was thirty feet up in a tall pine tree in a forest preserve. The branches formed a ladder leading upward. It was an easy climb to the two thick branches that formed a seat. Many times I climbed that tree, hung my backpack on a branch, sat on that natural seat, and prayed. I loved when there was a slight wind that gently waved the tree from side to side. I would close my eyes and think of the Holy Spirit shaping and forming me.

During that time I wore a leather wristband I had made. On the wristband I burned the words "A holy indifference." I got the phrase from Henri Nouwen. Nouwen prayed that he would have a holy indifference to the opinions of others so that he might have a holy concentration on God. 

This word was for me, too. If I had this I would be able to more purely love people. I would not go up and down with what others thought of me. I would be free from people-pleasing, striving to gain others' love and avoid others' criticism. 

I had been doing too much of that, and the result was much outward striving and agitation in my heart. So I carved "A holy indifference" on a leather band, wore it on my wrist, climbed a tree, and prayed. 

One day, as I was in the praying tree, God told me to take off the wristband and tie it around a branch. I felt I could let it go. God was doing a good thing in me. I was moving into greater freedom, from pleasing people to loving people.

Last night at Redeemer, before I spoke, God reminded me of this. I've written "A holy indifference" on a 3X5 card and am carrying it with me. I wrote it in my journal. The freedom God brought into my life years ago is being revisited and attended to today. (Thank you God - I needed to hear this again!)

***
Is it possible to hear from God? I've written about this in Chapter 5 of my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Troubledness Has No Place In a Trusting Heart


Ann Arbor

Jesus, in John 14:1, says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled." The Greek word here can be translated as "agitated." Like the "agitator" in a washing machine that goes back and forth, back and forth.

This verse implies that we have a responsibility, that we can "let" the agitator into our hearts. We can allow troubledness to dwell in our inner, spiritual home. When we do this it's like saying, "Trouble, I give you permission to make yourself at home in me."

How can we stop Trouble at the doorstep of our spirit? Jesus' answer in John 14:1 is: "Believe in me." Given the context of John chapters 14-15-16 we see that "to believe" is not mere intellectual acknowledgment, but intentional engagement and abiding-connectedness to Jesus. To believe is to abide. Real belief abides. Real belief takes up residence in a certain "abode." "Belief" always abides somewhere. In this case it's either:

a) "Trouble" makes its home in me, by my permission; or
b) I abide in Christ, giving Christ permission to set up home within me.

There are "works" of Trouble and works of Christ. "Troubledness" has causal effects and deeds. Implications. Manifestations.

Christ-belief also has consequences. If you trust Jesus (the antecedent of the conditional statement we are making), then you will do the works Jesus does and even more (the consequent of the conditional statement; therefore when the antecedent is affirmed, there follow the Jesus-like consequences.). It looks like this.

1. If I trust Jesus, then I will do what Jesus does and more.
2. I trust Jesus (in the sense of abiding in Him).
3. Therefore, I will do what Jesus does and even more.

In John 14:24 Jesus says, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." The agitator is unwelcome in the Father's home. Troubledness has no place in a trusting heart.

***
My recent book is: Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God