Friday, November 21, 2014

Muito Obrigado a Convenção Batista Nacional

I'll be reflecting for several days on what God was doing in me while Linda and I were in Brazil this week. I am filled with emotion thinking of the many beautiful new friends we have made, and how God moved among us with encouragement, power, love, rescue, and healing.

Special thanks to the excellent, Spirit-led leaders of Convenção Batista Nacional for so graciously hosting us.

Linda and I will print this group photo and always remember you in our prayers. Muito obrigado!

Objective Moral Values and Duties Exist (Premise 2 of the Moral Argument for God's Existence)

Our back yard, on the river

In my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class this coming Tuesday I will be especially explaining and arguing for the truth of premise 2 in William Lane Craig's version of the Moral Argument for God's Existence.

The moral argument for God's existence can be made using atheists to support both premises. The argument goes like this.

Premise 1 - If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.

Premise 2 - Objective moral values and duties do exist.

The conclusion then follows deductively:

Therefore, God exists.

Atheistic justification of the first premise is seen here.

Atheistic support of Premise 2 is seen in, for example, this quote from atheist philosopher Colin McGinn:

When I assert 'this is good' or 'that is evil', I do not mean that I experience desire or aversion, or that I have a feeling of liking or indignation. These subjective experiences may be present; but the judgment points not to a personal or subjective state of mind but to the presence of an objective value in the situation. What is implied in this objectivity? Clearly, in the first place, it implies independence of the judging subject. If my assertion 'this is good' is valid, then it is valid not for me only but for everyone. If I say 'this is good', and another person, referring to the same situation, says 'this is not good', one or other of us must be mistaken... The validity of a moral judgment does not depend upon the person by whom the judgment is made... In saying that moral values belong to the nature of reality... the statement implies an objectivity which is independent of the achievements of persons in informing their lives with these values, and is even independent of their recognising their validity. Whether we are guided by them or not, whether we acknowledge them or not, they have validity... objective moral value is valid independently of my will, and yet is something which satisfies my purpose and completes my nature.

Many atheists defend moral objectivism. Here's atheist Russell Shafer-Landau:

Some moral views are better than others, despite the sincerity of the individuals, cultures, and societies that endorse them. Some moral views are true, others false, and my thinking them so doesn’t make them so. My society’s endorsement of them doesn’t prove their truth. Individuals, and whole societies, can be seriously mistaken when it comes to morality. The best explanation of this is that there are moral standards not of our own making.

Further, any argument against moral objectivism would be self-refuting. One would then argue this way:

1. There are no objective moral values (which is the same thing as to say moral values are only subjective), and 
2. one objectively ought to accept subjectivism.

Which is incoherent.

(Thanks throughout to Peter Williams' essay "Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God?")

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In Brazil for 1 More Day

Linda and I are i Brazil for Day 3 of the National Baptist Convention annual conference. What a beautiful group of people we are with!

Several people were healed last night. One woman with chronic pain in her arm for two years said the pain was completely gone after we prayed for her - praise God!

Linda and fly out of Brazil tonight at 11:30 PM - be back in Monroe tomorrow around noon. It's 84 degrees and sunny here. Hopefully this is what awaits us in Michigan. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Brasil Pastors Conference - Day 2

It’s Wednesday morning at the retreat compound outside of Brasilia, Brasil. Like yesterday, the temperature is already in the 70s and will be in the mid-80s with lots of sun plus probably an occasional rain storm that will sweep through and leave.

God was powerful at last night's service - lots of calling out to God for healing from pride and shame and reclaiming our true identities as children of God. I asked Linda to play piano in the background as we prayed and then she played "How Great Is Our God" - a number of the Brasilian (yes, with an 's' in Brasil) pastors knew this song in English and sang along with me, with the rest singing in Portuguese.

In a few minutes I'll be giving my core teaching on how God forms and transforms the human heart into greater Christlikeness.

I'm just finishing breakfast. I sat at a table with 3 Brasilian pastors. One of them spoke a little Spanish, so I was able to communicate with him.

Thank you for praying for all of us today - God has great things in store for us!

(Here's the conference information.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pastor's Conference in Brasil - Day 1

Brasilia is three hours ahead of EST. So I'm writing at 8:30 AM from a rustic and well-maintained retreat center 30 minutes outside of Brasilia in the countryside. 

There are 70-80 pastors here. Some of them drove 20 hours to come here to this conference and arrived in the middle of the night.

After introductions this morning Linda and I will be introduced. We will both share our testimonies as a way for the pastors to get to know us.

Only 4-5 of the pastors speak English, so all my teachings will be translated into Portuguese. 

This afternoon I will give the first of my 7 presentations. It will be on "Leading the Presence-Driven Church," something very close to my heart about what church should be. 

I'm now looking at a breakfast plate of fresh papaya and mango. Plus Brazilian coffee (excellent!).

A family of burrowing owls are outside the building - two adult owls and two babies. This is part of God's beautiful creation!

It's going to be 84 degrees today, with lots of sun. I'm wearing sunscreen so as not to get burnt.

Pray for all of us today - God is going to do great things!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Prayer and Contentment as Thing-Independence (PrayerLife)

Pastor Carlos, me, Linda, and Ann Borquist yesterday morning in Brasilia
Today Linda and I ate with Bruce and Ann Borquist at Fogo de Chão in Brasilia. Someone treated us to this incredible eating experience (all 4 of us say thank you - what a great gift! And yes, I did eat the dessert you recommended.). I felt very content after this meal and time together! 

Experiences like this are better is when one's contentment is not a function of circumstances. As the apostle Paul once wrote, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances, whether I abound or whether I am abased." Today the four of us were able to see today as a gift, not as a right or entitlement. This makes the food taste better.

Philip Yancey shares this story In his excellent book on prayer. 

"I remembered reading the account of a spiritual seeker who interrupted a busy life to spend a few days in a monastery. “I hope your stay is a blessed one,” said the monk who showed the visitor to his cell. “If you need anything, let us know and we’ll teach you how to live without it.”" (Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Locations 1012-1015) 

The biblical idea of contentment is circumstance-independent. As are peace, joy, love and so on. The "fruit of the Spirit" is circumstance-independent. Were this not so things like inner peace would be conditional, and that's bad news for all of us. (That is, "IF I have _________, THEN I will have inner peace." 

The freer a person is inwardly the better life tastes. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Praying at the Intersection of Heaven and Earth (PrayerLife)

The intersection of Monroe St. and Front St., in Monroe
Linda and I are in Brasilia, Brazil this morning where I'll be preaching at a church on the presence of God. Then I'll preach tonight at another church on blessings and cursings. Then this week I'll be teaching at a pastor's conference on praying and God's presence. Real praying happens in God's presence. "Praying" in the absence of God is note effective.

Philip Yancey writes:

If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge. (Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Locations 248-251)

Real prayer happens where heaven and earth converge.

For example, Colossians 1:9 reads: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives...

Paul is praying for the Colossian Jesus-followers. This kind of praying, for others, has been called "intercessory prayer." To "intercede" means: to come between. The word "intersection" is helpful here.

One mile north of our church building is the intersection of Telegraph Road and M-50. If a person's car stalled in the middle of this intersection, would their car be on Telegraph Road or on M-50? The answer would be: both. Because, in this intersection, the properties of Telegraph Road and the properties of M-50 are shared, or are the same.

Something that illustrates this is set theory, in mathematics. This diagram shows that there are properties or attributes or elements of Set A that intersect with Set B. 

Now imagine that Set A equals the being of God; viz., all God's attributes, God's desires (God's will), and God's character. Imagine, further, that Set B equals the Colossian Jesus-followers (and, by extension, Jesus-followers today). Intercessory prayer is about the intersection of God and God's people. 

In Colossians 1:9 Paul is kneeling at the intersection of A and B, in the place where heaven intersects with earth, and asking God to bring heaven into the earthly existence of the people he is interceding for.

Pray today as an "intercessor," as one who kneels before God in the place where heaven intersects with earth.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Praying to Be a Lover (PrayerLife)

The River Raisin in the moonlight
My continuous prayer is: God, mature your love within me so I might love as Christ loved.

One excellent resource to understand agape love is this little essay by Dallas Willard - Getting Love Right - for just $1.

Willard says that agape love is not a desire, not a feeling, and not an action. Agape love is a source of action, but "is a condition out of which actions of a certain type emerge."

Love, as Paul and the New Testament presents it, "is an overall condition of the embodied, social self poised to promote the goods of human life that are within its range of influence. It is, then, a disposition or character (a second-level potentiality or potency, in Aristotelian terminology): a readiness to act in a certain way under certain conditions." (Kindle Locations 112-115)

When someone says "I just can't love so and so" and gives up on love they are going about this the wrong way. Willard says "they should not try to love that person but try to become the kind of person who would love them." That's the key - right there. "Our aim under love is not to be loving to this or that person, or in this or that kind of situation, but to be a person possessed by love as an overall character of life, whatever is or is not going on." (Kindle Locations 137-138)

A lover loves.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Philosophy of Religion - Craig's Metaethical Argument for God's Existence

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students:

1. State Craig's argument:

1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

This is a logically valid argument, which means: if the premises are true, the conclusion is necessarily true.

2. How does Craig defend P1?

a. By "objective moral value" (OMV) we mean: a moral value that is true independently of what people think of it. Thus, if it is true, it is true for everyone. Like, e.g., the statement The lights in this room are on. If that statement is true, then it is true for everyone; if it is false then it is false for everyone.

b. Give the "teacher analogy" I used in class.

c. Craig cites a number of atheists who admit that, on their atheism, ethics is illusory. For example, Craig cites atheist ethicist Richard Taylor:

The modern age, more or less repudiating the idea of a divine lawgiver, has nevertheless tried to retain the ideas of moral right and wrong, not noticing that, in casting God aside, they have also abolished the conditions of meaningfulness for moral right and wrong as well.Thus, even educated persons sometimes declare that such things are war, or abortion, or the violation of certain human rights, are 'morally wrong,' and they imagine that they have said something true and significant.
Educated people do not need to be told, however, that questions such as these have never been answered outside of religion.2
Taylor concludes,
Contemporary writers in ethics, who blithely discourse upon moral right and wrong and moral obligation without any reference to religion, are really just weaving intellectual webs from thin air; which amounts to saying that they discourse without meaning.3

3. How does Craig defend P2?

Many atheists agree that OMVs exist. Such as, e.g., Sam Harris in the Harris-Craig debate, and Michael Ruse (in the Craig essay).

OMVs function as "properly basic beliefs." A properly basic belief is one that we believe to be true without being able to evidentially prove it. Examples are: 1+1=2, and I see a car coming towards me (Implying that My senses provide reliable information about the outside world.). Even though we can't prove either of these statements to be true, we are rational in believing them until we are given a good reason not to.

For example we know that Racism is wrong. We apprehend this to be true. So, moral values are apprehended. Like we apprehend, by sense experience, that the lights are either on or off. Moral values function like "properly basic beliefs."

Both atheists and theists recognize that OMVs exist. This is not surprising if God exists. If humans are God’s image-bearers, then it’s not surprising that they are capable of recognizing or knowing the same sorts of moral values – whether theists or not.
[Note: Theistic philosopher Paul Copan writes: “We possess an in-built “yuck factor” - basic moral intuitions about the wrongness of torturing babies for fun, of raping, murdering, or abusing children. We can also recognize the virtue of kindness or selflessness, the obligation to treat others as we would want to be treated, and the moral difference between Mother Teresa and Josef Stalin. Those not recognizing such truths as properly basic are simply wrong and morally dysfunctional.”]

For more see:

Divine Command Theory and P1 of Craig's Metaethical Argument

Two Modes of Thankfulness

"The One Who Showed Mercy"

Not every mode of thankfulness is to be applauded.

The most morally and spiritually inferior form of thankfulness is the one that sees a beggar on the street and thinks, "Thank God I am not like this beggar; that, while she does not have a roof over her head and food to eat, I do. And for this, I give thanks." This is hierarchical gratitude. One sees that there are people who have less than I, and this is accompanied by a feeling of gratitude for having more than they do.

"More than they do" means things like: more giftedness, more opportunity, more stuff, more money, more beauty, more experience, more square footage. The "prayer" that rises up to God out of one's place on the status-honor hierarchy sounds like: "Today, God, as we approach Thanksgiving Day, we know there are people who do not have food enough to eat. We see them on TV. We read about them on the internet. But we do have enough to eat. And we give You thanks."

That is Pharisaical thankfulness. It's a gratitude that grows in the soil of confidence in one's own righteousness.

"To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'  "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."" (Luke 18:9-14)

Pharisaical thankfulness is comparative, based on the idea that one's physical condition and circumstances indicate the approval or disapproval of God. The man born blind must have sinned, or at least his parents must have sinned. Thus, he deserves his blindness.
"The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself." This is a form of self-prayer that only makes sense on the honor-shame hierarchy. The occasion of thankfulness is someone else's infirmity. I see someone who has less than me, and I thank God that I am not them.

This is not true gratitude. Real thankfulness, having a thankful heart, comes out of one's relation to God and not to others. The core recognition is: I need God, and God's love came down and rescued me. This kind of praying says:

  • God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
  • You have had mercy on me!
  • Thank you God.
True thankfulness is a function of an awareness of one's own neediness and not that of others, and the realization that God has displayed and is displaying his mercy towards me. When you realize how in need of rescue you are, and rescue comes, you will inexorably feel thankful. Prayers of thanks then become passionate. One outcome of such a truly and purely thankful heart is the heart-desire to be used of God to rescue others rather than to look at them and feel good about your own self. There's no honor-shame hierarchy in the kingdom of God. We're all beggars in need of bread.

Thanksgiving Day is coming. Give thanks in the right direction and for the right reasons. We have a God who comes to us.