Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Faith is Simply Prayer

"Faith is simply prayer."
- Martin Luther, A Simple Way to Pray

What can this mean?

If prayer is talking with God about what he and I are doing together, then actual praying is the concrete expression of faith in a God who is there, who hears me, and who responds. Just as the cliff diver expresses his faith that the water will be deep enough by diving, so does the Jesus-follower express their faith that God responds to prayer by praying. Conversely, the person who does not actually pray but says they "believe in prayer" is a person of little or no faith. Perhaps even unbelief.

In the act of praying I am a person of faith. To see a praying person is to see a person of non-theoretical faith. Faith, for them, is not some theory. It's also not faith in some theory. Prayer is a sign of faith in action, of an active faith. Only real believers pray. To pray is to trust God.

Are you a person of faith in God? Then you will pray, just as surely as rain causes the ground to get wet.

I have faith, therefore I pray.

Credo, ergo oratio.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Creativity as (Literally) Thinking Outside the Box


A main text for my doctoral dissertation on metaphor theory was Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. This led me on a trail that was and remains about metaphor, and language, as embodied. The idea here is, as Zoltan Kovecses says, that "metaphorical language and thought arise from the basic bodily (sensorimotor) experience of human beings. As it turns out, this notion of "embodiment" very clearly sets off the cognitive linguistic view from the traditional ones." (Metaphor: A Practical Introduction, Kindle Locations 72-73)

I purchased Lakoff and Johnson's Philosophy in the Flesh : The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, and Johnson's The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason. The philosophy and linguistic theory that arises out of these texts is, obviously, anti-Cartesian. It's also, I think, Hebraic in the sense that we are embodied beings situated in space.

So I am today intrigued and impressed with Suntae Kim's (et. al.) little nytimes article "When Truisms Are True." They write:

"Recent advances in understanding what psychologists call “embodied cognition” indicate a surprisingly direct link between mind and body. It turns out that people draw on their bodily experiences in constructing their social reality. Studies show, for example, that someone holding a warm cup of coffee tends to perceive a stranger as having a “warmer” personality. Likewise when holding something heavy, people see things as more serious and important — more “weighty.” "

Bodily experiences help generate new ideas and solutions to problems. I can verify this in terms of preparing to preach. I take the text I'm preaching on and walk with it, usually for miles, meditating on the text, and stopping to write down the ideas as they sometimes come marching towards me in platoons.       

Suntae et. al. write:

"We asked 102 undergraduates at New York University to complete a task designed to measure innovative thinking. The task required them to generate a word (“tape,” for example) that related to each of three presented clue words (“measure,” “worm” and “video”). Some students were randomly assigned to do this while sitting inside a 125-cubic-foot box that we made of plastic pipe and cardboard. The rest got to sit and think outside (and next to) the box.
During the task we tracked the number of correct responses suggested by the students. We found that those thinking outside the box were significantly more creative: compared with those thinking inside the box, they came up with over 20 percent more creative solutions."

"Even the outline of a box can influence creativity."

Bodily experiences help create new knowledge. This makes sense on a Hebraic understanding of personhood, and undermines the Cartesian separation between mind and body.

The article links to Suntae's research. As I went there I was pleasantly suprised to find: Embodied Metaphors and Creative “Acts”.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Recent Resources on the "Really Hard Problem" of First-Person Subjective Consciousness


I went to bed last night listening to J.P. Moreland's "Argument From Consciousness for God's Existence." (You can download it here for $1.99.) Moreland's talk is a mini-presntation of his daunting Consciousness and the Existence of God. There Moreland defends the truth of the conditional statement: If irreducible consciousness exists (or is regularly correlated with physical states), then this provides evidence (to a degree Moreland specifies in ch. 2) for God's existence. (xi)

Ultimately this works as an example of abductive reasoning: 1) irreducible consciousness exists; 2) the best explanation for irreducible consciousness is either theism or naturalism; 3) it's not naturalism; 4) therefore, theism is the most probable explanation for the existence of irreducible consciousness.
Moreland, therefore, must establish the antecedent clause of the above conditional, which he believes he does by going into painstaking detail re. the possibilities.

I see Moreland as going at what is, on philosophical naturalism, the "really hard problem" of first-person subjective consciousness, and claiming that, on theism, the "hardness" of the problem is seen as what we should expect to see if theism is true.

Moreland concludes: "I have argued that if property/event dualism is true, it provides evidence for the existence of God." (175)
 
Is this a good argument? I think so. But note this: the matter of "consciousness" is admitted by many to be a "mystery," and in principle an unsolvable one.
 
For example, consider philosopher Colin McGinn's excellent "All machine and no ghost?" Read this as a doorway into the discussion. Here are some highlights.
  • The philosophy of mind is concerned with the existence and nature of consciousness: what is consciousness, why does it exist, how is it related to the body and brain, and how did it come into existence?
  • We do not now, and likely will never, understand how the conscious mind and the unconscious material world fit intelligibly together.
  • There are five positions, or views, on consciousness.
  • View #1 - Eliminativism. "The eliminativist position attempts to dissolve the problem of explaining consciousness simply by declaring that there isn't any: there is no such thing - no seeing, hearing, thinking, and so on. There is just blank matter; the impression that we are conscious is an illusion. This view is clearly absurd, a form of madness even, and anyway refutes itself since even an illusion is the presence of an experience (it certainly seems to me that I am conscious). There are some who purport to hold this view but they are a tiny (and tinny) minority: they are sentient beings loudly claim­ing to be mindless zombies."
  • View #2 - Dualism. Dualism (J.P. Moreland, e.g.) holds that "consciousness exists, as well as matter, holding that reality falls into two giant spheres. There is the physical brain, on the one hand, and the conscious mind, on the other: the twain may meet at some point but they remain distinct entities. Dualism may be of substances, properties, or even whole universes, but its thrust is that the conscious mind is a thing apart from, and irreducible to, anything that goes on in the body. When I think, my brain indeed whirs but the thinking stands apart from the whirring, as clouds stand aloft from the earth or magnetism exists separately from gravity."
  • View #3 - Idealism. Idealism holds that "there is nothing but mind! There is no problem of interaction with matter because matter is mere illusion - we merely hallucinate brains. The universe is just one vast spirit, or perhaps a population of the same, consisting of nothing but free-floating consciousness, unencumbered and serene. Stars and planets are just perturbations in this cosmic sensorium."
  • View #4 - Panpsychism. "Even the lowliest of material things has a streak of sentience running through it, like veins in marble. Not just parcels of organic matter, such as lizards and worms, but also plants and bacteria and water molecules and even electrons. Everything has its primitive feelings and minute allotment of sensation. The cool thing about panpsychism is that it offers a seductively silky explanation of emergence. How does mind emerge from matter? Why - by virtue of the pre-existence of mind in matter... The trouble with panpsychism is that there just isn't any evidence of the universal distribution of consciousness in the material world. Atoms don't act conscious; they act unconscious."
  • View #5 - Mysterianism. This is McGinn's position. He writes: "Consciousness must have evolved from matter somehow but nothing we could contrive or imagine seemed to offer the faintest hope for explanation. Hence, it occurred to me that the problem might lie not in nature but in ourselves: we just don't have the faculties of comprehension that would enable us to remove the sense of mystery. Ontologically, matter and consciousness are woven intelligibly together but epistemologically we are precluded from seeing how. I used Noam Chomsky's notion of "mysteries of nature" to describe the situation as I saw it. Soon, I was being labelled (by Owen Flanagan) a "mysterian", the name of a defunct pop group, and the name stuck."
McGinn's point is: yes, consciousness is a great and amazing mystery, and likely will forever remain so. He concludes, in a display of rhetorical fireworks: "The "mysterianism" I advocate is really nothing more than the acknowledgment that human intelligence is a local, contingent, temporal, practical and expendable feature of life on earth - an incremental adaptation based on earlier forms of intelligence that no one would regard as faintly omniscient. The current state of the philosophy of mind, from my point of view, is just a reflection of one evolutionary time-slice of a particular bipedal species on a particular humid planet at this fleeting moment in cosmic history - as is everything else about the human animal. There is more ignorance in it than knowledge."

Moreland, on the other hand, sees theism as providing an explanation for consciousness. This is no "God of the gaps" thing, but the use of inference to the best explanation.

The Return of the Soul

Cambridge theoretical psychologist Nicholas Humphrey has invested in this discussion. He's interviewed here. He says: "What I also want to do is reintroduce the soul as a respectable issue for evolutionary psychology and philosophy." Consciousness looks and feels like "something from out of this world... It seems to be something that is beyond explanation in terms of what we know about the material world. That's a claim which many people, religious believers and philosophers, always make."

I agree. Consciousness is a bit of data that, as we attempt to investigate it, provokes awe and wonder and, for some like Moreland and me, brings us back to the matter of God.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Preaching at Redeemer Ministry School


Redeemer Ministry School students preaching this coming Tuesday, Feb. 28, are:
  • Bethany Molina
  • Kim Cooke
  • Brent Allen
9:30 AM.

All are invited.

Influencing People One-on-One Is More Important Than Preaching Before Thousands

"When you are not needed, you lose part of your purpose."
- Ed Dobson

It's 6 AM in Monroe, and I am wide awake. Because I see that Ed Dobson is dying, as we all are. I just read his story, and watched his video... here.

I think I need a wake-up call every day of life. Some kind of alarm that jump-starts me out of any spiritual lethargy I've succumbed to, a buzzer that stings me and injects God-adrenaline into my soul.

We awake, again. Ordinariness becomes gratitude. Indifference becomes concern. Tiredness turns to strength. Fog dissipates into clarity.

Ed Dobson, former pastor of 5,000 in Grand Rapids, has ALS. Overnight, he became pastor of zero and needed by only a few. He writes:

"There is no way to describe the hopeless feeling of knowing that you only have a few years to live, and most of that time will be in the disabled condition. How does it feel?
It feels like you are sinking into the darkness.
It feels like you have left the warmth and sunshine and descended into a tomb.
It feels like you are in slow motion while the rest of the world speeds past.
It feels like you have a ringside seat to your own demise.
It feels overwhelming!"

What do you do when you are dying, like you are? You find a compelling purpose. Dobson found his in this: "I decided to live like Jesus. The paradox is, that for me the purpose is following Jesus, which I'd been trying to do all my life."

What will you do with the limited time you have to make a difference?

Dobson regularly preached before thousands every weekend. Now, he ministers with one person at a time. He says, "You would think that influencing thousands is more important than influencing one. But I'm gradually learning that influencing one-on-one is way more important."

Dobson says his ALS has forced him into an understanding of what it means to obey Jesus. And knowing that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.

Truth and the Ashtray

Ann Arbor

Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris's recent book is Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography. Ron Rosenbaum (smithsonian.com) reviews it here

Rosenbaum tells the story of how Morris enrolled in a graduate philosophy seminar at Princeton, taught by Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn is the one who coined the term "paradigm shift." Way back in the 1970s I had to read Kuhn's ultra-famous The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It stayed with me, so much so that I ended up making Kuhnian paradigm-connections to a theory of metaphor (how metaphor works) in my doctoral dissertation.

In class, Morris conflicted with Kuhn. At the end of one argument Kuhn threw an ashtray at Morris, almost cracking his skull. (Kuhn was an incredible chain smoker.) Morris writes about this incident here. It's fascinating reading, and funny.

Morris had a Harvard professor, Erwin Hiebert, write a letter of recommendation to Kuhn at Princeton. Morris got accepted by Princeton. Morris writes: "I should have known that there was going to be trouble. I had imagined graduate school as a shining city on a hill, but it turned out to be more like an extended visit with a bear in a cave." That bear was Kuhn. The matter of conflict was the nature of truth.

Paradigms, for Kuhn, were "incommensurable." (I now remember attending, as an undergraduate,  Harold I. Brown's course on Kuhn, and trying to grasp Kuhnian thinking, which was new to me.) Kuhn's incommensurability thesis is this: if theories are incommensurable, there is no way in which one can compare them to each other in order to determine which is more accurate. See a footnote Morris makes on this below.

As Kuhn was presenting this in class, Morris the student asked: “If paradigms are really incommensurable, how is history of science possible? Wouldn’t we be merely interpreting the past in the light of the present? Wouldn’t the past be inaccessible to us? Wouldn’t it be ‘incommensurable?’

A great question! But, upon hearing this, Kuhn put his head in his hands and began muttering, "He's trying to kill me. He's trying to kill me."

Morris writes:

"And then I added, “…except for someone who imagines himself to be God.” It was at this point that Kuhn threw the ashtray at me. And missed.

I call Kuhn’s reply “The Ashtray Argument.” If someone says something you don’t like, you throw something at him. Preferably something large, heavy, and with sharp edges. Perhaps we were engaged in a debate on the nature of language, meaning and truth. But maybe we just wanted to kill each other.

The end result was that Kuhn threw me out of Princeton. He had the power to do it, and he did it. God only knows what I might have said in my second or third year. At the time, I felt that he had destroyed my life. Now, I feel that he saved me from a career that I was probably not suited for."

Kuhn's view was that truth is culturally determined and depends on a person's "frame of reference." With this, welcome to one of the roots of postmodernism. (See footnote 18 below, from Morris's nytimes essay.)

Harris's position was then, and remains, that reality and truth are not, ultimately, about one's perspective. For example, I tell my logic students that the state The lights in this room are on is either true or false. If it is true, it is true for everyone past, present, and future. If it is false it is false for everyone. "Truth," in logic, is not subjective or perspectival. If someone says From my limited perspective the lights in this room are on, then that statement, if true, is true for everyone. My logic text (Vaughn) is exceptionally good on clarifying this and defeating the "subjectivist fallacy" as self-contradictory.

Rosenbaum writes:

"Truth may be elusive, it may even be unknowable, but that doesn’t mean, as postmodernists aver, that reality is just a matter of subjective perspectives, that one way of seeing things is just as good as another.
“I’m amazed,” Morris said when we spoke recently, “that you still see this nonsense all over the place, that truth is relative, that truth is subjective. People still cling to it.” He calls these ideas “repulsive, repugnant. And what’s the other word? False.”"

I am certain that "reality is [not] just a matter of subjective perspectives." That's the "logic" in me. I am also persuaded that all facts are theory-laden; i.e., we all view reality through an epistemic filter. I think all of us, now, see epistemically "through a glass, darkly." I think, to get at this, we do well to first adjudicate between noetic frameworks (worldviews; noetic frameworks). By such frameworks we see clearly.

*****
[8] “Incommensurability” is a term introduced by Kuhn in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Although it is used repeatedly in the book, Kuhn offers no clear definition. Much of this essay is an attempt, albeit an unsuccessful one, to pin it down. Here is a sample of some of Kuhn’s explanations: (1) “The normal scientific tradition that emerges from a scientific revolution is not only incompatible but often actually incommensurable with that which has gone before.” (2) “These examples point to the…most fundamental aspect of the incommensurability of competing paradigms. In a sense that I am unable to explicate further, the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds.” And (3) “Just because it is a transition between incommensurables, the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time, forced by logic and neutral experience. Like the gestalt switch, it must occur all at once (thought not necessarily in an instant) or not at all.” Thomas Kuhn, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1996. pgs. 103, 150

[18] I can’t hope to provide a definition of postmodernism here. But the essence of it, for me, is the social construction of reality and of truth. Forgive me, this definition may not capture the many varieties of postmodernism, but it’s the best I can do. I had never really thought of Kuhn as a postmodernist, but one of my researchers returned with a syllabus from Louis Menand’s Harvard class on postmodernism and on the list of required reading, along with Lyotard, Baudrillard and Derrida, was “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Structure became an “important text” of postmodernist thought.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Wounded Healer

Snow, a long, long time ago in Monroe
A long time ago, when snow used to fall in Michigan during the winter, when children got sleds for Christmas and got to use them, when men wore snow boots, and snowblowers fulfilled their dreams, I read Henri Nouwen's The Wounded Healer. I hung my ego on the branch of that cross and, by His stripes, got healed.



 4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
- Isaiah 53:4-5

This was Jesus' healing methodology, his healing way. Jesus would heal our bleeding woundedness by his bleeding wounds. So why not, Nouwen taught us, adopt the Jesus Way of Healing in our redemptive mission to humanity? This is upside-down, counterintuitive, inverse-hierarchical stuff. Through Henri's deep writings God has worked to bring restoration to many souls. His The Inner Voice of Love was a surgeon to my spirit.

Now, in his posthumous Spiritual Formation, we see that Henri remained a student in the Jesus School of Healing Ministry. He writes:

"When I think about what it means to live and act in the name of Jesus, I realize that what I have to offer to others is not my intelligence, skill, power, influence, or connections, but my own human brokenness, through which the love of God can manifest itself. Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope. The great paradox of ministry is that when we minister in our weakness, we receive from those to whom we go. The more in touch we are with our own need for healing and salvation, the more open we are to receiving in gratitude what others have to offer us." (p. 63)

When we're weak, He becomes strong in and through us.

Now let the weak say "I am strong."

Plantinga's Free Will Defense Against Mackie's Logical Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God


(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class, as we read essays on the argument from evil against the existence of God.)

PLANTINGA’S FREE-WILL DEFENSE AGAINST MACKIE’S LOGICAL
ARGUMENT FROM EVIL AGAINST THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

Mackie accuses the theist of being illogical. Mackie thinks there is no possible way that propositions (1), (2), and (3) can be simultaneously affirmed. (Of “Mackie’s Triad”)

Just as there is no possible way for a person to simultaneously say (a) This object is square; and (b) this object is circular, likewise there is no possible logical way for any person to affirm (1), (2), and (3).

To refute this all Plantinga needs to show is that it is possible to affirm (1), (2), and (3) together. Here it is, in three main points.

POINT 1: It is possible that persons have libertarian free will.

This is the view that causal determinism is false, that—unlike robots or other machines—we can make choices that are genuinely free. Persons have morally significant free will if they are able to perform actions that are morally significant.

POINT 2: It is possible that God has “counterfactual knowledge.”

This has to do with what are called “counterfactuals of creaturely freedom.” (CCFs)

God knows with certainty the actual, contingent truth-value of all counterfactuals of freedom. God has, however, no control whatsoever over the truth-value of these counterfactuals.

This is because persons have free will. On this view God does not control our choices. Here’s an example.

 Suppose God wants John to freely refrain from taking a bribe. God will not control John’s choice, because John has free will. All God can do is give John free will. So, one of the following propositions is true. But only one can be true. If one is true, the other is necessarily false.

             a) If John has free will, then John will take the bribe.
            b) If John has free will, then John will not take the bribe.

If (a) is true, then John will take the bribe and God won’t get what he wants. Only if (b) is true will John do what God wants him to do.

So, we have two possible worlds.

One possible world is where (a) is true. Another possible world is where (b) is true. But if (a) is true, then God cannot actualize a possible world in which (b) is true. This is because (a) and (b) are “counterfactuals of creaturely freedom.” Only one of them can be true. Depending on which one is true, it means that the counter-proposition is false.

If God has counterfactual knowledge, then there is a possible world that God cannot actualize.  

Therefore God cannot actualize all possible worlds.

Remember, God knows the truth-value of all CCFs. God knows what John will do. But John has free will, so it does not mean that God controls or determines what John will do. Because God knows whether (a) is true or (b) is true, God cannot actualize a possible world where the counterfactual of either (a) or (b) is true.

Given God’s counterfactual knowledge, it is not feasible for God to actualize every possible world.

But Mackie thinks that God can actualize any possible world, including a possible world where persons have free will but always choose what is good.

POINT 3: It is possible that every creaturely essence suffers from “transworld depravity.”

“Transworld depravity” is the condition whereby in all possible worlds that God creates, a being will never avoid at least some evil choices.

That is, it’s possible that, for any creaturely essence you choose, God couldn’t create a world in which that creature is significantly free but always does what is right.

If this is true, then God’s creation of a world with moral good would entail that there is evil. It would logically follow that there is evil.

Therefore, evil is logically compatible with the existence of a perfectly loving, all-powerful God.

So, although there are possible worlds where creatures are free but commit no moral evil, these were not feasible worlds for God to actualize, since the truth-values of the relevant counterfactuals of freedom were not under His control.

Because God gives creaturely agents free will, and transworld depravity exists, God cannot create (actualize) a possible world where things work out just as he wants.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Solitude and Leadership (and why multi-taskers are poor thinkers)

(Linda, in our back yard.)

Here's a pretty cool essay by William Deresiewicz, given as a lecture to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in October of last year. Deresiewicz says that "true leadership means being able to think for yourself and act on your convictions."

How do you learn to do that? Not by multi-tasking. Deresiewicz cites a recent study that shows "the more people multitask, the worse they are, not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself... Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it." Now that... is a great definition of "thinking."

Thinking for yourself "cannot be done in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube." We do our best thinking by slowing down and concentrating. Deresiewicz gives these examples.

"I used to have students who bragged to me about how fast they wrote their papers. I would tell them that the great German novelist Thomas Mann said that a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. The best writers write much more slowly than everyone else, and the better they are, the slower they write. James Joyce wrote Ulysses, the greatest novel of the 20th century, at the rate of about a hundred words a day—half the length of the selection I read you earlier from Heart of Darkness—for seven years. T. S. Eliot, one of the greatest poets our country has ever produced, wrote about 150 pages of poetry over the course of his entire 25-year career. That’s half a page a month. So it is with any other form of thought." Leadership is a slow-cooker, not a microwave.

Deresiewicz argues that "concentration" and "focus" are achieved through "solitude." In solitude one is not being bombarded by the thoughts of other people, but is forced to think for one's own self. He writes:

"So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship. Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people. But I’m talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Long, uninterrupted talk with one other person. Not Skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude.”"

Solitude, says Deresiewicz, "is the very essence of leadership." "The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself."

So, learn to spend time with yourself. Just you and God. Jesus had a habit of getting away to be alone with the Father. If he needed to do it, so do we. And remember: Jesus of Nazareth is the most effective leader who has ever lived.

Why Burning the Quran Causes Riots

See Rioting over Quran burning is un-Islamic, scholar argues.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

To Insist That Religion Is Peculiarly Malignant Is Mere Stupidity

"To insist that religion is peculiarly malignant is fanaticism, or mere stupidity."
- John Gray, reviewing Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion
By Alain de Botton

This is a nice review of de Botton's new book. I am certain the following is true: "We can be sure the world's traditional religions will be alive and well when evangelical atheism is dead and long forgotten."

Find a Lonely Place to Pray

Pine trees in my front yard, in the days when
snow fell during a Michigan winter.
When we lived in East Lansing one of my favorite places to go alone to pray and keep company with God was 40 feet up a 60 foot pine tree in a local forest preserve. The tree branches were thick, numerous, and like steps ascending to the heights. There, I sat on two branches made by God for just my body. One day I tied a leather bracelet I had made and was wearing to a branch. It should still be there. I've occasionally thought of going back, climbing up, and re-claiming my bracelet.

Up in this tree I felt alone with God. I spent many hours there praying. I loved it when a breeze would move the tree. Inwardly, I was being moved by God's Spirit. This, for me, was a "lonely place apart."

When I assign students to pray I insist that they find a place to do this apart from their home, work place, car, iPad, and texting-machine (cell phone). Call such a place a "lonely place." Why?
  1. Jesus found "lonely places," away from people and distractions, to pray.
  2. In the history of Christian spirituality, serious praying was mostly done in "lonely places" such as, e.g., the desert.
The experience of prayer, of being alone with God, just you and God, is different when you are not surrounded by your friends and all your stuff.

I like what James Houston writes: "Prayer is the determination to be alone before God, with no gallery to play to and no distracting comparisons to make." (The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God, 21)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Jesus, Canon and Theology



Speakers Darrell L. Bock, Daniel B. Wallace, and Ben Witherington discuss various controversies and misunderstandings made on the canon of scripture. They also deal with Dr. Bart Ehrman's books (such as Misquoting Jesus).

This is a nice piece for any interested in New Testament scholarship.

Humility as Constant Forgetfulness of Our Own Achievements

Heart-shaped snowflake,
Monroe County Community College
In the seventh century there was a Jesus-follower named John Climacus who wrote a book called The Ladder of Divine Ascent. His book was about spiritual "rungs" of a ladder that, by the Spirit, we climb or ascend, growing ever closer to God. He came to be known as "John of the Ladder."

John of the Ladder wrote things like:

"A horse when alone often imagines that it is galloping, but when it is with others it finds out how slow it is." (Step 25:21)

And: "In drawing water from a well sometimes, without noticing it, we bring up a frog with the water." (Step 26:58)

John of the Ladder also wrote this: "Humility is: constant forgetfulness of our own achievements." (In James Houston, The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God, 20)

In prayer we bring ourselves minus our own "glory" to God. Our prayer-focus is: Him and Him alone. We lose ourselves, we "deny ourselves," so as to attend fully to Him. We're "all ears and eyes" for God. When this kind of heart-purity happens the real prayer life has begun.

Sick is the person who sleeps in their own trophy room. (John of Monroe)

We lay down our "crowns" before God's throne, since Christ alone wears the Crown.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Real Worship Evokes the Presence of God, Not Audience Applause

Linda bought me a Taylor guitar
for my birthday 2 years ago.
I was 20 years old and leading Sunday morning worship in a Lutheran Church on the campus of Northern Illinois University. I would arrive for Sunday worship after a long night of drinking, drugs, and partying. Sometimes I was really out of it. Being a good guitar player, and used to playing drunk, I was able to pull it off. I could play better drunk than most worship leaders could play straight. They paid me $10 A Sunday to do this. Even though I was far from Christ, and could care less about God.

I can't remember how I was asked to do this, who asked me, and why I was never asked about my spiritual condition and fitness as a worship leader.

How important is musical skill in worship leading, or in playing on a worship team? The answer is: not very. My standard for our worship musicians is this: you must be able to play well enough so as not to distract people from worshiping. Obviously, if your guitar playing is hideous, people will be drawn to the dischordant carnage more than to God. My recommendation is: on your instrument, be adequate. Take that part seriously. Get lessons and grow.

Instrumental ability without a Christ-formed heart creates "performance" without God-presence. Worship is all about God-presence. Real worship is corporate and communal, and is and feels like a movement. If the God-movement is not in the hearts of the "worship leaders" than we have a situation where great instrumental ability may actually shut the door to true adoration of God.

Prayer and Busyness as Moral Laziness

Linda, in Ann Arbor

When I began to have extended prayer times back in 1982, some as long as 6-10 hours, I sometimes found myself thinking that people are going to get upset with me because I am "doing nothing." A thought like this would come to me: "I should be xeroxing right now." I should at least be "doing something!" At its worst, I was concerned that my board of directors of our campus ministry might interpret my many hours of prayer as laziness and a refusal to do hard work. (They did not, BTW.)

Thirty years have passed, and I don't have those thoughts any more. In fact, I think the opposite. I now know that "doing" that does not come out of an abiding prayer life is irrelevant. Since prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together, I need to regularly meet with God and find out what he is doing, and what he wants me to do. My "doing," as some like Thomas Merton have written, must emerge out of my "being" (with God).

In true Jesus-like upside-down fashion, James Houston calls busyness "moral laziness." He writes:

"Busyness can be an addictive drug, which is why its victims are increasingly referred to as "workaholics." Busyness acts to repress our inner fears and personal anxieties, as we scramble to achieve an enviable image to display to others. We become "outward" people, obsessed with how we appear, rather than "inward" people, reflecting on the meaning of our lives." (Houston, The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God, 17)

It's common for me to ask someone I don't know the question "Who are you?" This is a different question than "What do you do?" Prayer is a "Who are you?" activity rather than a "What do you do?" thing. And, these questions have a proper spiritual and psychological order, which is:

Question 1 - Who are you?

Question 2 - What do you do?

Answer Question 1 before you answer Question 2. Q2 always flows from Q1, rather than vice versa.

Don't "do" until you "are."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stanley Hauerwas On the Need for Truthful Preaching

I like what Duke U. theologian Stanley Hauerwas says about the need for truthful preaching. He writes:

"I suspect that the deepest enemy of truthful preaching in our time is not only the loss of confidence in the words we have been given, but also the lack of trust many who preach have that God will show up in the words we use."

"The worst betrayal of the task of theology comes when the theologian or preacher fears that the words they use are not necessary because the church is no longer understood to be necessary for a relationship with God. The result too often is to confuse sermonizing with entertainment or bombast."

- A Cross-Shattered Church: Reclaiming the Theological Heart of Preaching

My Green Lake Photo

I submitted my photo of Green Lake, Wisconsin in Ken Rockwell's photo contest. I read Ken's website regularly, and have learned tons of things about taking pictures.

Go to "Vote Now." Then "Recently added" + "See All Entries."

Right now my photo is on p. 4. I call it "Blue Water Boat."

Redeemer Ministry School - Student Preaching


Preaching this Tuesday morning at RMS are:
  • Dwight Kelley
  • Chris Robinson
  • Skyler Dieselberg
We worship T-F, 9-9:30 AM.

Preaching begins at 9:30.

All are invited to attend.

Redeemer's Worship Team - The Heart of Worship Comes First

Years ago I attended a worship conference led by some well-known worship leaders. One of them said, in a seminar, that they would let any musician get on the platform and play with them. I (and some musical friends who were with me) looked at one another with a "Are you kidding me?!" look.

That's "worship-team-as-evangelism," and strikes me as having similarities to "missionary dating." Or, it's the "warm musical body theory" approach; viz., "We really need a guitar player. There's John - he's a great guitar player. John wants to be on the platform "performing." Let's invite him to do it."

That's not for me. Pastorally, I have real problems with doing it that way. In the first place I want our W-Team people to be themselves worshipers. I want them to be team players. I want them to share the vision of what we leaders are embracing and get behind us and lead before us. None of this, ultimately, is about "performance"; it's all about presence (of God).

I love the way our Worship Leader (Holly Benner) and our Worship team are now walking in this. We are cultivating the deeper values of a worshiper's heart. Tonight, for example, Linda and I are looking forward to meeting at Mark's home (one of our bass players). Kellie Robinson will facilitate, and focus us on the core worship-theme of "Intimacy with God." We'll bring our journals, pens and bibles. We'll spend time sharing with each other what God is doing in our lives, praying for each other and hanging out together. There's not one of us who knows enough about intimacy with God. If you have people on your W-Team that think they are beyond all of this, lovingly release them.

We meet together without hiding behind our intruments or microphones to get to know one another and be more greatly known by God. Without that, Sunday mornings can feel like just another "gig."

Holly has asked our W-Team members to participate in my 6-week Spiritual Formation class. And they are - thank you! Tonight I am so looking forward to hearing what God is doing in us as we are intensifying our prayer lives.

That's the stuff that lies at the heart of worship. All of us at Redeemer will be better for it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Childcare Offered in Redeemer's Fellowship Hall Tomorrow (Happy Valentine's Week!)

Hello Redeemer Family & Monroe Area Friends:

Monroe County Community College’s Math and Science Society will be offering child care for kids ages 3-12.
When? Tomorrow, Sat., Feb. 18.

4 – 7 PM
Cost: $2.50/child.

All monies go to support the Math and Science Society at MCCC.
Note: The MCCC student leaders who will be doing this have been students in my MCCC classes. I recommend them highly!

Why are they doing this? Eryn (one of my students who will be there) writes: “Those of us who are working have YEARS of babysitting experience and we'll be setting up games and activities for them. The point of the event is so that parents can have a belated Valentine's Day if they didn't have time during the week, so they can go see a movie, have dinner, or just spend some time together.”
Waiver forms and information sheets (contact #s; etc.) will be used.

No snacks will be provided.
Thank you Eryn and MASS for doing this!

John Piippo

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Prayer Is Keeping Company with God

My back yard

Ten years ago Linda and I went to Vancouver where I was the speaker at a weekend conference for Chinese Jesus-followers. I spoke on spiritual formation and transformation things, especially the need for one's doing to arise out of one's being. The conference took place at Trinity Western University.

When the weekend was over we stayed at a phenomenal Bed and Breakfast in Vancouver. Our host we the daughter of author and professor James Houston. I was familiar with Houston, who was one of the founders of Regent University, and a professor of Spiritual Theology there. Linda and I had three days at this B&B, from which we explored the beautiful city of Vancouver.

I was thinking of this trip today, and about Dr. Houston. I checked out his works at amazon.com. One of his books is The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God. I ordered a used copy and it arrived today.

I began the read. Wow! Houston is a great writer, and his thinking runs deep. Here we have a lifetime of prayer and God-companionship expressing itself. When I see this I slow down. I will not speed-read through a sumptuous organic garden.

It begins: "Prayer is keeping company with God... I began to see prayer more as a friendship than a rigorous discipline. I started to become more of a relationship and less of a performance... I made up my mind that the desire to pray and keep company with God would become the primary concern of my life. Prayer would come even before my public ministry."

I am hooked... on another book.

This is the kind of Jesus-follower I want, I need, to hear from.

Comments On My Blog

Thanks to any who have read my blog and commented.

I've decided to not allow comments in the future. The main reason is: I am finding it hard to take time to adequately respond.
I do receive and often respond to comments on Facebook.  My blog entries appear on my Facebook page. Friends who connect with me there sometimes post thoughts. Facebook is proving to be a good venue for me to keep the dialogue going.

I'm also responding to more and more students who contact me via e-mail. I am so thankful for this ongoing interaction! It is keeping me busy enough in a relevant way.

To all who read what I'm writing even though you have not commented - thank you!

Craig Keener's 4-Volume Commentary on the Book of Acts

For a number of years I've been aware that Craig Keener has been working on his massive, scholarly Acts commentary. Many in my church family have been on Craig's prayer team re. this work. Craig and I have communicated about it.

Now, this coming June, Volume 1 arrives: Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 1:1--2:47.

Amazon.com says:  
 
"Highly respected New Testament scholar Craig Keener is known for his meticulous and comprehensive research. This commentary on Acts, his magnum opus, may be the largest and most thoroughly documented Acts commentary available. Useful not only for the study of Acts but also early Christianity, this work sets Acts in its first-century context.

In this volume, the first of four, Keener introduces the book of Acts, particularly historical questions related to it, and provides detailed exegesis of its opening chapters. He utilizes an unparalleled range of ancient sources and offers a wealth of fresh insights. This magisterial commentary will be a valuable resource for New Testament professors and students, pastors, Acts scholars, and libraries."

Miracles in the Bible and Today

Craig Keener has written an article for the Huffington Post that appeared today - Miracles in the Bible and Today.     

I'm still slow-cooking through Craig's 2-volume Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.  It's great, scholarly, inspirational stuff!

Prayer: Dealing With the Wandering Mind

Window, Valley Forge, PA
My counsel to those who find their minds wandering while praying is: note where it wanders to; write it down in your journal; and note that your mind always wanders to something like a burden. Then, following the counsel of 1 Peter 5:7, cast your burdens on God, for he cares for you.

Henri Nouwen writes:

"One of the interesting things that happen when we spend time with God in prayer is that we find out how tired and anxious we are. If we don’t fall asleep, we find out how full our head is of worries and concerns and things we need to do. While we are trying to be with God, we are busy thinking about all the plans we have made. A thousand distractions will come our way, like jumping monkeys filling a banana tree. As soon as we enter into solitude, we discover how chaotic our inner life is. Suddenly all sorts of thoughts, feelings, and fantasies come to the surface, and we soon find ourselves thinking about old pains and old rewards, about appointments we forgot to keep and letters we forgot to write, about people we hope to see and people we hope we never see, about a future vacation, a possible promotion, or our approaching retirement. Instead of being prayerful we become restless and can’t wait until our half hour is over." (Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, p. 27)

My experience is that the more one consistently spends much time alone with God praying, the less one's mind strays. Nouwen says we should not be surprised at how much our minds and hearts get distracted from focusing on God. Especially if you are just beginning to spend more solitary time with Him. "You can’t just suddenly shut the door of a house that was always open to strangers and expect no one to knock on the door." (Ib., 27)

But, over time, there comes a purification of the heart. "It will take a while for these countless distractions to disappear, but eventually they will, especially when they realize that you refuse to open the door to them for at least half an hour. If we faithfully keep our time of prayer, every single day, then slowly the distractions diminish and our mind and body join in a rhythm of daily prayer." (Ib., 27)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jesus, Via Negativa

Monroe

Many years ago I was at some meeting while in seminary, and had to make a presentation. My seminary friend (D.N.) introduced me by what I was not. D.N. said something like, "I'd like to introduce John Piippo. He is not a professor, he is not a doctor, he is not a seminary graduate, he is not from Africa, he is not 7 feet tall, he is not elderly, he is not.....  he is not..." D.N. went on for a while. I thought this was really funny, and clever. D.N. was introducing me using the ancient descriptive way of via negativa. By listing all the many things I was not, one could learn something about who I really was.

The sixth-century anonymous philosopher-theologian Pseudo-Dionysius, in his Mystical Theology, developed via negativa as a way of speaking about God in terms of what God is not. By saying what God is not, we learn things about who God is. For example, God is not finite (God is "infinite," i.e., having neither beginning nor end); God is not limited (in terms of power - God can do everything that is possible to do), God is non-spatial, God is non-material ("immaterial"), God is atemporal (not subject to time), God is non-physical, and so on. This way of speaking about God is a "negative way" (via negativa). In mystical theology this is also called "dark knowledge."

In January one of the messages I gave at Faith Bible Church in New York City was "Jesus, Via Negativa." In my passion to know the Real Jesus I find it helpful to clear away cultural confusion by saying what Jesus was not.

For example, Jesus...
  • ...was not wealthy. While foxes have holes and birds have nests, Jesus didn't have a roof over his head. Jesus didn't have closets packed with robes and sandals for every occasion.
  • ...was not impressed with the rich and famous. Actually, Jesus mostly viewed the rich and famous as spiritually bankrupt.
  • ...did not come to raise money for his ministry.
  • ...did not come for the express purpose of multiplying your finances.
  • ...did not operate according to cultural honor-shame hierarchies. Jesus climbed down the ladder, took on the form of an "expendable," and descended intio greatness.
  • ...was not self-centered. Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve.
  • ...is not like much of what I have seen on "Christian TV." (Admittedly, I don't watch any of this any more. I'm certain some of it is good; I'm equally certain some of it misrepresents Jesus. I'm thankful for the good, and grateful that shut-ins can access it. Note: to access the real Jesus, begin reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.) 
  • ...did not need to hype his message, which was "gospel." The "gospel" is good news. That's enough. Good news has intrinsic power. You don't have to advertise a fire.
  • ...did not come to establish any earthly nation as a "Christian nation." Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." In his temptation in the wilderness by Satan Jesus positively refused the chance to rule over this world's kingdoms. Jesus comes for all the nations, for all peoples. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise (Galatians 3).
  • ...does not wink at sin. Jesus has no "boys will be boys" or "girls will be girls" attitude. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "Aslan [Jesus] is not a tame lion."
  • ...did not come to enhance your physical appearance, but came to capture your heart. Jesus rejected the Bling Dynasty.
  • ...is not your "divine Butler" who comes to further your personal kingdom. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is something Jesus comes to defeat.
  • ...is not "boring." Jesus is the greatest revolutionary leader who has ever lived.
  • ...did not come to sell tickets and entertain an audience, but to raise an army of followers. Jesus is after disciples, not mere intellectual believers.
  • ...was not an entertainer. Jesus wants followers, not spectators.
  • ...did not see himself as one religious option among others. Jesus was the Redeemer, the one through whom the Father would reconcile all persons unto himself. Jesus was the Sozo-er, the Savior.
  • ...did not come to "balance your life." Jesus wants all of you. 100%. Jesus is Lord.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

There's No Proof for String Theory

See "Fields Apart," by Sam Kean, in The American Scholar.

His Grace Is Enough

Monroe

When I was growing up my grandmother on my father's side lived with us six months out of the year. I liked this arrangement, mostly. What I didn't like was her legalistic judgmentalism. She had her way of doing things, and would express her disappointment with me if I wasn't measuring up. For example, in her mind there was a way I should look, physically. It was not good for me to have facial hair, like a beard or moustache.

I was 22 years old, had just found Jesus, but had grown a moustache. I had flunked out of college, been doing drugs every day of the week, had screwed up a lot of relationships, but was met by God, gave my life to Him, was reading the Bible, working as a youth leader in my Lutheran church, and was back in school and doing well. Nevertheless, grandma was not thrilled with me.

One day she came to me, took my hand (she was only 4'10"), and said "Johnny, I want to show you something." She led me to my high school senior picture which was hanging on the wall. In that photo I was clean-shaven. She looked at the picture and said, "Johnny, you looked so nice in that picture."

I loved my grandmother. I did not love her rules of acceptance. She believed in Jesus. She read her Bible every day. Somehow she had missed the core Jesus-idea of grace.

The apostle Paul writes, in his letter to the Galatians, that following the rules of the Law cannot justify a person. We are only justified (made acceptable to God) by placing our faith in Christ. If rules could make people righteous, then we'd have been there a long time ago. Giving rules and laws cannot change a person's heart. They only imprison a person. (Paul says the Law functioned as a "guardian" that immature Israel needed until the time was right and Messiah came.)

Having a moustache has nothing to do with acceptability to God. You could grow a large Amish beard (men only, please) but this would have neither positive or negative affect on your justification before God. Your many failures do not cause God to love you less; your relative successes do not cause Him to cherish you more. The love of God is not a function of any conditions you must satisfy. If even only one "rule" was needed to gain God's acceptance than, Paul writes, what Jesus did on the cross was not sufficient. This means that "rules-righteousness" is heresy. This is what Paul is desperately combatting in Galatians.

The result of Christ’s "it-is-finished" work is that anyone who trusts in Him and surrenders to Him is declared fit before God. We are given a new status (no longer held accountable for sinfulness) and, through his act of accepting us, God grants us the Spirit so that we have a transformed character; that is, the person who is justified (Gk. dikaioo) also inevitably lives a consistent life of righteousness (Gk. dikaiosyne)."

Rules bring condemnation and judgment. But now that Messiah has come we are set free from condemnation. "Christians" who don't get this and remain in "rules-righteousness" are the reason a lot of young people today want nothing to do with "church."

The Good News is not: "Come to church - we've got a bunch of clothing, appearance, and behavioral rules to lay on you." The Real Good News is, and has always been: "Welcome - His grace is enough." Thank God for setting us free from the law of sin and death! 

If you're still looking for some law to follow, try the law of love. This is the greatest commandment. All the other commandments hang on this one. Do this:

  • Trust Jesus
  • Embrace Jesus
  • Abide in Him
  • Be filled with His Spirit
  • Live by the Spirit
  • "Fruit" will come forth, from your heart
  • The first fruit will be "love"
  • When God's love is in you you won't need a rulebook to tell you that love does not steal or lust or envy or commit adultery or hate

Dallas Willard on Hearing the Voice of God


Woman praying in the Church of the Nativity, Jerusalem



I have long admired Dallas Willard as a philosopher, Jesus-follower, and excellent writer. Willard is professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. A brilliant philosopher, Willard's writings on Christian spirituality have deeply influenced me, especially The Spirit of the Disciplines, The Divine Conspiracy, and Renovation of the Heart.

Here are some of Willard's thoughts from his book Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God. What a beautiful book! This is good reading for anyone wondering just what it means to hear God's voice, to them, today.

“Those who operate on the wrong information are likely never to know the reality of God’s presence in the decisions which shape their lives and will miss the constant divine companionship for which their souls were made.” (10)

“Today there is a desperate need for large numbers of people throughout our various social groupings who are competent and confident in their own practice of life in Christ and in hearing his voice.” (12)

Willard quotes Brother Lawrence – “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it; yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive. It is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise; but let us do it from a principle of love, and because God would have us.” (From Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God)

John Calvin and William Law assured Willard “that the same Spirit who delivered the Scriptures to holy men of old speaks today in the hearts of those who gather around the written word to minister and be ministered to. And they warned me that only if this happened could I avoid being just another more or less clever letter-learned scribe – trying to nourish the souls of my hearers out of the contents of my own brain, giving them only what I was able to work up through my own efforts from the Bible or elsewhere.” (17; I pray this for myself, too.)

Many Christians seem to treat God’s will as nothing more than “fate,” (17)... and that everything that happens is caused by God. Willard calls this idea “faith-destroying.” (19) It's faith-destroying because it takes away the biblical idea that we are co-laborers with God.

“Israel’s experience led the prophet Isaiah – who also had firsthand experience of conversing with God (Isa 6) – to describe conditions of the faithful this way: “Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am… The LORD will guide you continually” (Isa 58:9, 11).

“In the last analysis nothing is more central to the practical life of the Christian than confidence in God’s individual dealings with each person.” (22)

The old hymn with the lines “He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own” is about “conversational communion” with God. (25) Remember Jesus, who said in John 10:4 – “My sheep follow me because they know my voice.”

A guideline for hearing from God: “Only our communion with God provides the appropriate context for communications between us and him.” (33) In other words - spend time, and much of it, with God.

Another guideline is: read the Bible realistically. Assume that the experiences recorded there are basically of the same kind as ours would have been if we have been there… “Unless this comes home to us, the things that happened to the people in the Bible will remain unreal to us. We will not genuinely be able to believe the Bible or find its contents to be real, because it will have no experiential substance for us.” (35)

The Bible is not just a book of doctrine and abstract truth about God… something that a person can study endlessly without actually encountering God himself or hearing his voice. (35)

Willard cites A.W. Tozer:

“It is altogether possible to be instructed in the rudiments of the faith and still have no real understanding of the whole thing. And it is possible to go on to become expert in Bible doctrine and not have spiritual illumination, with the result that a veil remains over the mind, preventing it from apprehending the truth in its spiritual essence.” (35-36)

“When God speaks to us, it does not prove we are righteous or even right. It does not even prove that we have correctly understood what he said. The infallibility of the messenger and the message does not guarantee the infallibility of our reception. Humility is always in order.” (39)

A corporate sensing of God is sometimes needed. “Experienced ministers and laypeople frequently find they have synchronized their activities unerringly in a meeting or other form of service through their sense of God’s presence and intent for the particular occasion. It is something they come to expect and rely upon.” (47)

Finally, D.L. Moody had many years of successful ministry, when one day he had a powerful experience with God. Moody writes:

"I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it, it is almost too sacred an experience to name… I can only say God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths; and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world; it would be as small dust in the balance.” (49)

Monday, February 13, 2012

God's Redemptive Love Creates a Company of Love-Sharers

Tree, in my backyard

This morning I'm reading from Lewis Smedes's Love Within Limits, ch. 3, "Love Is Not Jealous." Here are some quotes, with my thoughts. Personally, I am praying for an inner love-revolution. I want to love like Jesus loves. And because only a free person can love like that, with the love of Jesus comes freedom. And release from fear.

Jealousy is a kind of fear. It is also a kind of pain. "Jealousy is a feeling of pain at losing touch with someone we love because he or she has been stolen away by someone else." (22)

All who love anything and anyone must be prepared for the appearance of jealousy. Let me explain. The year was 1971. I had fallen in love with Linda. One night I was at her home. There was a knock on the door. One of her old boyfriends was paying a visit. I felt threatened. (= jealousy) He came in. They talked. Linda shared that she was now dating me. (My jealousy slightly, but only slightly, receded.) He then says, "I understand. Nevertheless, I would like to take you out on a date." (My fiery jealousy just got a bucket of gasoline poured on it!) She said, "No, thank you." With that, my mortal enemy said good-bye and walked out the door. I am on fire before Linda.

"Jealousy is aimed at someone who threatens us, threatens to take away someone we love." (24) This distinguishes jealousy from envy. "The people we envy are not a threat to us; they only happen to have what we would like to have." (Ib.) Because love wants total possession of its object, jealousy cannot share even one tiny part with others. For this reason a computer, or a TV, can become a hated object because it steals time from us with the beloved.

Is jealousy, therefore, evil? Not in itself. God, writes Smedes, is a "model of jealousy." "I the Lord your God am a jealous God" - God, from Mt. Sinai. God "is jealous for himself. He feels pain when he shares his people with idols." (26) Idols are fantasies; non-existent "gods." God "has no intentions of playing games with nonentities... [God will not] share those whom he loves with a hoax, a nothing, an illusion. But he will share his people with other people." Yikes!

I know that is true. I am certain that is how things should be. God's "redemptive love creates a company of love-sharers." (Ib.) This is why real love, the love of God, is not jealous. This is what the Bible calls "agape love." Smedes is brilliant here. He writes:

"Love is the inner power to be happy when someone else shares your friend. Love is the power to rejoice in the superior talent, success, or power of someone close to you." (27)

I am a good guitarist. Many are better. I not only know this, I have no problem with this. A month ago Linda and I saw guitar maestro Lee Ritenour in Detroit. I was awe-struck. I cannot play like that. I loved watching him play. But I have not always done so well, especially many years ago, when someone knocks on the door and enters my little world where "I" am the guitar player and they pick up the guitar and are better than me, and people are giving them attention and praise. They could be the most humble person in the world, yet my jealous heart is heating up.

That is what I want removed, permanently, from my soul. Real God-love overcomes self-pity and insecurity and suspicion. "This love is the power of sharing without being threatened." (27)

It's a bad sign when a person says words like "I can't live with you," or "I can't live without this." Smedes writes: "The person who tells someone else, "I can't live without you," is threatened at his deepest selfhood when the one with whom he cannot live is shared in the smallest way. Such a person always suspects the worst, and this very suspicion prods him to cruel reactions." Non-agapic jealous love is cruel.

The cure for the jealous heart is to be jealous only for God. Expect from God; do not expect too much from another person. Agape love keeps us from expecting everything in this life. "It is the power to share even a loved one, to be thankful that someone else can discover the very qualities in a friend or spouse that you so much appreciate. It is the power, too, to admit cheerfully that you cannot meet all the needs of your loved one or friend and are pleased that someone else can add what you lack." (29)

Such love is not jealous. It is the power of sharing.