Friday, November 29, 2013

A Deeply Conscious Prayer Life That Is Not Passive (PrayerLife)

Spiritual Formation class - Payne Theological Seminary (July 2010)
I'm reading Forged In the Fiery Furnace: African American Spirituality, by Georgetown University professor Diana Hayes. I am privileged to teach Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary, and part of my personal project is to continue to grow in understanding the African American spiritual context. (My next M.Div. class on Spiritual Formation is Jan. 7-9. 2014. See the seminary website if you're interested.)

Hayes writes about the multivariegated fabric of African American spirituality. This includes a deep-river heritage of prayer and praying. She states:

[African American spirituality] "is a contemplative, holistic, joyful, and communitarian spirituality. This means that it is expressed in prayer through a deeply conscious prayer life that is not passive. Unlike in the Western tradition, there is no separation between the sacred and secular worlds; instead, they are interwoven and lived as one holistic way of being in the world." 
- Diana L. Hayes, Forged in the Fiery Furnace:  African American Spirituality, Kindle Locations 175-178

I love that phrase - "a deeply conscious prayer life that is not passive." A prayer life that is preconscious, prethematic, intuitive and intentional and active.

How does this get into a person? The only answer is: by actually praying.

Free Cars in Monroe if Michigan Shuts Out Ohio State


Screenshot2013-11-27at11

Monroe is making national news because of Victory Honda's promotion to give free cars to people if Michigan shuts out Ohio State this Saturday.

Here's CNN's report

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I Am a Praying Type (PrayerLife)

Monroe County
It's Thanksgiving morning in Michigan. Snow is falling, perfectly and soundlessly and windlessly. 

It's beautiful.

The more I pray, the more I see things differently. I see creation differently. I see nature as a creation. I am an ancient cosmologist with eyes on the hands and mind of God. 

When I pray I see people differently. 

I see people as creative handiwork. I open my eyes while praying and heaven and earth have intersected, intradimensionally. This is common for people who have a prayer life. In the act of praying we gain transformational and eschatological vision.

Philip Yancey writes:

"With this new starting point for prayer, my perceptions change. I look at nature and see not only wildflowers and golden aspen trees but the signature of a grand artist. I look at human beings and see not only a “poor, bare, forked animal” but a person of eternal destiny made in God’s image. Thanksgiving and praise surge up as a natural response, not an obligation."
- Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Locations 383-386

Prayer is not some sad duty but a gaining of perspective. Prayer is an act of recalibration. 

Prayer is a creational response.

"Prayer, and only prayer, restores my vision to one that more resembles God’s. I awake from blindness to see that wealth lurks as a terrible danger, not a goal worth striving for; that value depends not on race or status but on the image of God every person bears; that no amount of effort to improve physical beauty has much relevance for the world beyond." (Yancey, Kindle Locations 391-394)

I pray as I type; I type as I pray. 

I am a praying type. 

As such, I see things differently.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Did the Universe have a Beginning? Alexander Vilenkin



T.W. sent me googling today after Alexander Vilenkin's answer to the question: "Did the Universe Have a Beginning?" (Thanks TW)

His answer, after dismissing the three major views arguing for a beginningless universe, is: "Probably, yes." (34:31)

So William Lane Craig is not being "intellectually dishonest" in arguing, from physics, Premise 2 of the Kalam Argument, which states: The universe began to exist

BTW - It's not relevant to these discussions to call people "intellectually dishonest" (like some have called WLC). This assumes epistemic access into WLC's (or anyone's) mind - quite an omniscient claim! We can, logically, simply use statements such as "I think Vilenkin (or whomever) is wrong in his claim X."  Then, argue against the argument which concludes with Claim X, rather than (ad hominem) arguing against the person (the classical fallacy of irrelevant premises).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dealership offering free cars if Wolverines shut out Buckeyes



Monroe made the Detroit Free Press headlines tonight. 

Here's the ad.

Which says: "If Michigan's favorite team claims its 27th shutout victory you keep the car for free!"

Fox Sports has this: "Free cars if Wolverines shut out Buckeyes."

The Psychology of Atheism


Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism

I just ordered a copy of New York University psychologist Paul Vitz's Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism. This is a revised, updated version of his earlier book.

Vitz is a former atheist who converted to Christian theism.

I was motivated to see if this new version had come out yet while reading Victor Brombert's chapter on Camus in Musings on Morality. Brombert writes:

"The overture and the closing of both [Camus's] The Stranger and The Plague stand under the shadow of death. So does Camus’s own life. His father, whom he never got to know, died from shrapnel head wounds received at the Battle of the Marne in the early weeks of World War I, when Albert was not yet a year old. Camus’s posthumously published autobiographical novel, The First Man, describes a hopeless father search that brings the son to an encounter with the vanished father when he visits his tomb in a desolate cemetery in Brittany. The search for the father, it is well-known, implies a search for identity. But no help comes from the absent father, who literally remains a “dead stranger” in his Breton tomb, far from his native Algeria."
Brombert, Victor (2013-10-15). Musings on Mortality: From Tolstoy to Primo Levi (Kindle Locations 1331-1336). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition. 

SEE ALSO:



Review

“Paul C. Vitz has republished one of the most profound books in the emperical psychology of religion, Faith of the Fatherless, now with additional data. Here he skillfully demonstrates objective analogies between the family experiences of articulate atheists and their pronouncements concerning the family of God. Of course, since there is "nothing" more personal than God-and our beliefs and relationships to God-our capacities for personal relationship matter tremendously in the formation of our divine beliefs. Everything is interconnected, we know. However, Prof. Vitz's engaging style makes his demonstration of these objective analogies especially memorable and useful for understanding unbelief and ourselves.” --Paul de Vries, PhD, President, NY Divinity School

“The reasons for belief in God and unbelief are complex and varied and hotly disputed. Paul Vitz makes a striking contribution to the current debate with an elegant and thoroughly plausible explanation for much atheism that turns the traditional Freudian critique of religion on its head. Relying on the biographies of well-known modern atheists, he finds significant evidence that negative childhood experiences with regard to one's father can severely compromise one's capacity to believe in God. Whatever one's beliefs, there is much to ponder in this well-written and well-researched book.” --Eric L. Johnson, PhD, Director, Society for Christian Psychology

“Vitz (psychology, New York U.), an atheist himself until his 30s, exposes atheism to the same psychological analysis atheistic apologists have used to debunk religious belief. Beginning with Freud's notion that belief in God is a product of humanity's desire for security, he argues that psychoanalysis is actually a better explanation for denial of God, concluding that the absence of a good father is at the core of militant atheism. Surveys of the leading intellectual defenders of atheism and Christianity, show that the atheists had "defective fathers" while the believers did not. Vitz does not intend to suggest that atheism is psychologically determined, but rather hopes to counteract the idea that irrational psychological factors lead one to believe in God.” Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com) --Booknews

We Are Alone In the Universe

Speaking in Nairobi
Are we alone in the universe?

Probably.

I recently ordered a used copy of Arizona State physicist Paul Davies' The Eerie Silence:Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence. Davies sums up his thoughts in his nytimes op-ed "Are We Alone In the Universe?" The bullets are:


  • "If a planet is to be inhabited rather than merely habitable, two basic requirements must be met: the planet must first be suitable and then life must emerge on it at some stage."
  • What are the chances of life starting up on a habitable planet? We have no idea. "In spite of intensive research, scientists are still very much in the dark about the mechanism that transformed a nonliving chemical soup into a living cell. But without knowing the process that produced life, the odds of its happening can’t be estimated."
  • "It is irrelevant whether the Milky Way contains 40 billion habitable planets or just a handful." Because even the simplest bacterium at the molecular level is "staggeringly complex." If there is some "complexifying principle" that drives "a chaotic mix of chemicals on a fast track to a primitive microbe" it has not been found. "No hint of such a principle has been found in laboratory experiments to re-create the basic building blocks of life."
  • While we may in the future be able to analyze the atmosphere of extrasolar planets, Davies thinks a good place to look is our own planet. What we would be looking for is "a second sample of life, one that arose from scratch independent of known life." "It could be that intermingled among the seething microbes all around us are some that are so biochemically different they could be descended only from a separate origin." 
I often step outside at night when the skies are clear and look at the stars. I am uninfluenced by science fiction. The facts are that we have no evidence of extra-earth life, and no knowledge of how abiogenesis happened. I gaze clueless into the night sky with the crazy thought that we are, probably, the only member of the set "planets hosting intelligent life."

If You Pray God Will Use You (PrayerLife)

Anderson Gardens, Rockford, Illinois

I was, from 1981-1992, the American Baptist Campus Minister at Michigan State University. One of my predecessors was Roger Palms. Upon leaving MSU Roger became editor of Billy Graham's Decision Magazine. 

Once Roger and his wife came back to MSU and Linda and I went out to dinner with them. I was fascinated by the experiences Roger had traveling all over the world with Billy Graham, and writing about these adventures. I asked Roger a question:

"Tell me - what is Billy Graham really like?

"Here," replied Roger, "is how I see Billy. We were on a crusade in another country. I was looking for Billy. Someone told me he was in a church building. I went to the building, looked everywhere, but could not find him. Finally I went into the church's sanctuary and walked to the front. There was Billy laying face down on the floor before the altar. That is what Billy Graham is really like." 

"No wonder," I said, "that God really uses him!"

If you pray, God will use you.



Monday, November 25, 2013

Prince Fielder Wondering If He Has Truly Free Agency




NEWPORT BEACH, CA—After meeting with his agent Monday to discuss his free agency prospects, Prince Fielder told reporters he was left wondering if he or any man can ever say his agency is truly free. "Free agency suggests I am able to make a choice void of any constraint, but right from the get-go, that premise is problematic," said Fielder, adding that it isn't as if he can just get a job as an acoustical engineer, or even as a professional athlete in another sport. "In the end, I am not an autonomous entity who can choose a path based on multiple options. Instead, I am one link in a causal chain, so my actions are merely the inevitable product of lawful causes stemming from prior events. What I'm saying is, I'm essentially limited to the 30 baseball organizations in North America; realistic, long-term socioeconomic factors have already decided which cities can support a team that pays the kind of salary I demand; and roster decisions dating all the way back to the invention of the game have determined which teams are in need of a first baseman today—so there are only a few clubs that could logically take me. And human nature will compel me to pick the one that offers the best, highest salary." Fielder concluded the press conference by saying that he is essentially a determinist, and that he enjoys hitting baseballs.

Maturity & the "Lake Wobegone Effect"

Pear, in my backyard

I don't think I've ever met an 18-year-old who doesn't act like an 18-year-old, unless they act less than an 18-year-old. But never more. 18-year-olds have not matured beyond their 18 years. 

I have met, through the years, parents who think their kid is way more mature than their age. They are wrong. Their false belief will likely harm their child.

In premarital counseling I tell young adult couples that I view them as knowing little or nothing about marriage. Why should they? Linda and I are in year 41 of marriage and we're still learning and growing. We would not think of saying that we've reached full marital maturity. We have not yet gone through old age together. We could read books on what this will be like, but book-reading does not translate into life experience and growth. If we're given the chance at another 20 years together hopefully we'll be closer to being mature than we are now.

Are some 18-year-olds more intelligent than some 50-year-olds? Of course. But intelligence is not maturity. It is a common mistake to confuse the two. Parents - do not do this! Do some 50-year-olds act like 14-year-olds, or less? Of course. They have not matured beyond, say, 14 years (or even less). It's possible for maturational growth to be stunted, but it's not possible for it to advance beyond one's years. I think, generally and for the most part, this is true. Remember how Jesus talked, in Luke 8:14, about the seed that fell among thorns [that] stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature [Greek telesphorousin]."

Let's define "maturity" from a Jesus point of view as: having achieved one's purpose. The biblical Greek word here is telos. Telos is an agricultural word. Apply it, for example, to fruit. When fruit is mature it is ready to be picked and eaten. Let's say, e.g., that it takes 5 months for an apple blossom to reach the full maturity that is a ready-to-eat apple. At three months old is the apple mature? Of course not. It cannot be. There are developmental stages of relative maturity. Remember that the telos- point is: ready-to-eat. Think of how Paul talks about that future day when we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature [Greek teleion], attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13) Here maturity is a "becoming thing."

Maturity cannot be nuked. It cannot be microwaved. Maturing requires time. Slow maturational growth is best, and produces the most lasting results. Parents - do not treat your child as more mature than their age. You will not be doing them a favor if you do that. If you treat them that way, probably that's just about you and your need to be viewed as a good parent. Likely it's a pride or shame thing, in you. Maybe you are living vicariously through your children, which is never a good thing to do.

I'm now thinking of Garrison Keillor's famous statement about life in the fictional town of "Lake Wobegone" - the town where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." The Lake Wobegon effect, a natural human tendency to overestimate one's capabilities, is named after the town. Maturationally, it's not only OK for your children to be average, it's wonderful and you're probably doing a good parenting job.

From the Jesus POV how does one mature? Using an agricultural metaphor, Jesus tells us that we will mature if we stay attached to Jesus, like a fruit branch stays attached to a fruit vine. If an 18-year-old is passionately attached to Jesus, then give thanks. If they stay attached the Spirit will help them ultimately attain the full measure of Christ.

A baby should act like a baby. A 14-year-old should act like an 14-year-old. To say this is not to condemn them. In fact, it will be far better for them if their parents view them this way. Do not mistake physical growth for maturity. A 14-year-old may look like a 25-year-old, but maturationally they cannot be. Thus one should not give them the responsibilities of a 25-year-old. The wise and loving parent will understand this, and mentor their child. Their effectiveness will depend on their own maturational level. If their own spiritual and emotional maturity has been halted at 14 years, then we have one child raising another child.

Physical and intellectual growth do not equal spiritual and emotional growth. Haven't we all seen adolescent emotions in an older, adult body and mind?

Note, finally, the developmental quality of two verses on maturity. First, Hebrews 5:14 - solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. The words "constant use" and "have trained themselves" are examples of temporal language; viz., much attached-to-Jesus time is needed.

Secondly, James 1:4 exhorts us to let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

By the Spirit, as we abide in Christ, Christ is formed in us. The formation of Christ in us is a function of our abiding time. Parents will do well to: 

1) abide in Jesus themselves; and 

2) mentor their children to do the same.

In Prayer Think of God's Goodness to You (PrayerLife)

Anderson Gardens, Rockford, Illinois
God is good.

To say this is to attribute the quality or property of "goodness" to God. 

"Goodness" is an essential, not contingent, property of God. Contingent properties are attributes a thing has, but which are not essential to that thing. An essential attribute is a property that something has that is essential to that thing, and without which that thing would not be what it is.

For example, it is essential that a "cup" has the property of "holding liquid." A cup that does not hold liquid is not a cup. A "cup" cannot not hold liquid.

God cannot not be good. God IS good, in his essence. Because of this all that issues forth from God is good. Whatever God creates is good. God's words are good. God's commands are good, and for our well-being.

The belief in the essential goodness of God is rooted deep in Judeo-Christianity. Once recognized and experienced, it occasions the human response of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the natural and logical response to the experienced goodness of God.

We see this is a verse like 1 Chronicles 16:34 - Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

As you spend time praying today think of God's goodness. To you.

And give thanks.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Prayer Is a Position (PrayerLife)

Praying at the Western Wall (Wailing Wall), Jerusalem

"Prayer only seems like an act of language. Fundamentally it is a position, a placement of oneself."
- Philip Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Locations 409-411

I think Yancey is right. Communication in the love-relationship of friendship or marriage is not merely a matter of words, but of presence. Prayer as communication is positional presence. It is encounter with the Other. Prayer is a relationship. 

Prayer is meeting. Therefore prayer has a meeting place. 

Position yourself in God's presence today, and pray.

Does God Exist?

Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio

Props to Philosophy Today for publishing William Lane Craig's essay "Does God Exist?" Bill is a brilliant philosopher. He gets malaprops from Internet atheists who lack cognitive access to Bill's arguments. If you are reading this it is a 99.9999% certainty that Bill is smarter than you (and me, too). So it's simply sophomoric to dismiss him. Actually, it's sophomoric to dismiss anyone or anything you can't understand.

Bill gives 8 reasons to support God's existence. Read the essay for explanation. They are:


  1. God is the best explanation why anything at all exists.
  2. God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe.
  3. God is the best explanation of the applicability of mathematics to the physical world.
  4. God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.
  5. God is the best explanation of intentional states of consciousness.
  6. God is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.
  7. The very possibility of God’s existence implies that God exists.
  8. God can be personally known and experienced.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tim Curry Preaches Sunday Morning at Redeemer

Tim Curry preaches tomorrow at Redeemer out of Hebrews 4:14-16 - 14 

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." 

Tim is Adjunct Instructor of Speech Communication at Monroe County Community College.

Prayer Helps Correct Myopia (PrayerLife)

Snow falling on the pine trees in my backyard

Late at night before I go to sleep, if the skies are clear, I step outside and look up. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place...Consider the word "consider." It's a pondering, meditative, dwelling, slow-cooking word. When I attend... 

... I regain perspective. 

Prayer includes considering and beholding the handiwork of God. Praying takes us to the summit of the mountain, from where we gain a vantage point on all that lies below. Philip Yancey writes:

"Like a flash of lightning, prayer exposes for a nanosecond what I would prefer to ignore: my own true state of fragile dependence. The undone tasks accumulating at home, my family and every other relation, temptations, health, plans for the future — all these I bring into that larger reality, God’s sphere, where I find them curiously upended. 
Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Locations 321-325

Praying keeps a person sane.

"Prayer helps correct myopia, calling to mind a perspective I daily forget." (Ib.)

Who am I that You are mindful of me...

Friday, November 22, 2013

Study New Testament Greek at Redeemer

We are in contact with Pastor Paul Albrecht about a New Testament Greek class for Redeemer. Paul has taught Greek at Palmer Theological Seminary.

We are looking to start in January, ten sessions (probably Saturdays) spanning roughly six months. 

Two texts at $35 apiece will be required. 

Paul is looking into recording many of the teachings to DVD, which will allow much more flexibility to our various schedules. 

We might consider partnering with Paul to support recording costs as a class fee. 

If you are INTERESTED please contact Tim Curry (timmycwilliams@yahoo.com) ASAP.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

When a Homeless Man Joins Your Worship Video



(Thanks Amy for sharing this with me!)

Are You "Open" to Learning About Other Worldviews?

Zip-lining

I have two degrees in philosophy (undergraduate and graduate). One thing about a philosophy degree is that you are forced to study alternative worldviews. My experience is that I and my philosophy colleagues love to do this. We became philosophers to learn about other POVs, and to more deeply understand our own.

A Facebook atheist recently challenged me, asking whether I am really "open" to challenges to my faith. This atheist does not understand what it's like to engage in doctoral philosophy seminars where every moment is a challenge to whatever one's most cherished beliefs are. Worldview-challenging is the beating heart of Socratic philosophy. The serious, academic study and interactive discourse about alternative faith systems and epistemic frameworks is one's daily fare. (Sorry... you have to experience this environment to truly understand it, and the openness it requires if you are to succeed.)

On the other hand, Facebook atheists who think they are "open to reason" are epistemically monocular. They belong to the "Bwahaha" tribe that sits around the closed campfire with their atheist choir. They are part of the "dark side of mediated communication," which conducts "relationships at arm’s length, round-the-clock, and simultaneously, and only with those who reinforce one’s worldview." (Howard, Gardner; Katie Davis (2013-10-22). The App Generation (p. 93). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.) This is the world where evaluation happens without understanding.

Of course Facebook theists can be like this, too.

And of course there are academic atheists and theists who dialogue and debate their worldviews, not on Facebook, but face-to-face. These types know that, before the debate, one must understand the worldview of the other. This ramps up the dialogue. Do a philosophy degree, or take a philosophy class at a university and you'll enter into the real discussion, where:

  • Understanding precedes evaluation
  • Understanding happens
  • Understanding is not possible without openness
  • Understanding requires constant exposure to alternative worldviews
  • Understanding requires reading scholarly and informed material from the other side

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The End of Contemplation

Anderson Gardens, Rockford, Illinois
I'm currently reading research on the effects of hyper-technology on culture, which means on humanity. One of the books is Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age (Maggie Jackson), and a second book Harvard's Howard Gardner and Katie Davis's The App Generation

Tonight Gardner and Davis have pointed me to David Levy's essay "Information, Silence, and Sanctuary." What an intriguing title for someone like me, who is on a mission to bring about a revival of focus and one-thingness in the form of solitary prayer and Christ-abiding. All these authors tell me we're going to see less and less, and less, of the ability to attend and fix on one thing. This will render, for example, the biblical book of Hebrews cognitively inaccessible.

Contemplation and meditation will be gone. Gardner writes: "Technology was intended to free up time for unstructured contemplation, but paradoxically it seems to have had the opposite effect." (Gardner and Davis, The App Generation, pp. 74-75)

Levy states: 

"The easy availability... of vast amounts of information seems to have led to a pervasive sense of overload. The presence of multiple communication devices and information sources has fostered an interrupted style of working that threatens concentration and productivity. And the possibility of communicating and acting quickly has encouraged a speedup in work practices and expectations that at times feels unsustainable and counterproductive. It is a puzzling state of affairs, for it appears that technologies intended to increase human effectiveness and productivity may - at times, and in ways still poorly understood - be having the opposite effect." (Levy, 233-234) 

Gardner and Davis write: "Epitomizing the purpose of the app, we’re more focused on doing than on being." (The App Generation, p. 75)

Philosophy of Religion Exams


For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students:

The second round of 1-on-1 oral exams are Nov. 21 and Nov. 26.

The exams will be held in room A153.

The exam questions are:


  1. Explain Mackie's logical (a priori) argument from evil against the existence of God.
  2. Explain the Buddhist idea that evil is an illusion (and hence Mackie's third statement is false).
  3. Explain Plantinga's refutation of the logical argument from evil.
  4. Explain Rowe's evidential argument from evil against the existence of God.
  5. Explain Wyckstra's "no-seeum" critique of Rowe's evidential argument.

The Key to Everything

On the day Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung by his German Nazi captors he wrote the following words in his journal:

"The key to everything is the "in him." All that we may rightly expect from God, and ask him for, is to be found in Jesus Christ. The God of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with what God, as we imagine him, could do and ought to do. If we are to learn what God promises, and what he fulfills, we must persevere in quiet meditation on the life, sayings, deeds, sufferings, and death of Jesus. It is certain that we may always live close to God and in the light of his presence, and that such living is an entirely new life for us; that nothing is them impossible for us, because all things are possible with God; that no earthly power can touch us without his will, and that danger and distress can only drive us closer to him."
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 391

(The hermeneutical key to understanding the letters of the apostle Paul is the phrase "in him," which Paul uses 180 times (including variations).)

To Pray Is to Have a Spiritual Life (PrayerLife)

Methodist church, Monroe
"A spiritual life without prayer is like the Gospel without Christ."
- Henri Nouwen (The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 32)

Nouwen makes an analogy which is, I think, appropriate. Because Jesus had a spiritual life, right? And Jesus prayed. If Jesus prayed, how can we who claim to follow after him be "too busy to pray?"

Prayer is, biblically, at the center of a spiritual life. A prayerless person has little or no Jesus-kind-of spiritual life. I don't think pointing this out has the effect of motivating people to actually pray. It may make a few people guilty, but guilt is not a great motivator.

Still, the standard must be lifted up in our watered-down, relativistic religious world. If I stood in front of my church and said, "I don't have time to meet with God in prayer, but I've got some cool things to share with you today," they should relieve me of my prayerless insights. Prayerlessness is the bitter fruit of unbelief.

Positively, to have a prayer life is to have a spiritual life. This is good news for all who actually pray. They see prayer as essential to the Jesus Movement. In their praying they are part of the Movement. To pray is to engage in The Mission. In prayer we get, among other things, our marching orders. A praying person becomes an instrument or weapon of righteousness in the hand of Almighty God.

The Christian who gets converted to a Jesus-follower discovers life with Christ as an adventure. God actually communicates with them, and where prayer focuses, power falls. Such praying begets even more praying. The inner fire is lit. This is when things begin to happen spiritually.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

2014 Ohio School of Power and Love

We're going to be participating in this event.

Click here for registration and more information.

Email Template  OH2014.jpg

Find Out About Prayer (PrayerLife)

Monroe County

When a doctoral student at Princeton asked, “What is there left in the world for original dissertation research?” Albert Einstein replied, “Find out about prayer. Somebody must find out about prayer.”
- In Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, Kindle Locations 122-124

So..., how do we find out about prayer? By praying. You'll learn more about prayer by immersing yourself in its activity than by reading books on it.

Book learning will not suffice. That would be like reading a book on swimming and thinking, "Now I know how to swim." To swim you've got to get in the water; to pray you've got to engage in the conversation.

Find out about prayer today.

Pray.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pretending to be Christians

This film publicity image released by Fox Searchlight shows, Michael Fassbender, from left, Lupita Nyong'o and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a scene from "12 Years A Slave." The film, by director Steve McQueen, is being hailed a masterpiece and a certain Oscar heavyweight. (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight Films, Francois Duhamel) Photo: Francois Duhamel, Associated Press
Michael Fassbender, from left, Lupita Nyong'o and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a scene
from "12 Years A Slave."

Linda and I saw "12 Years a Slave" last night. It's hard to watch. It evokes self-examination. 

Movie critic Mike LaSalle writes:

"In the American South's gruesome costume drama, nouveaux aristocrats aped the appearance of European royalty and pretended to themselves and the world that they were Christians. The result of this pretense was a perversion of self that bred sadism and decadence."
- "12 Years a Slave' review: view of a horror"

For more depth on such hypocrisy and non-Christianity see James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Prayer Works (PrayerLife)

Sharing a meal with Michael and Cliff, in central Kenya (photo by Al W.)

I pray because prayer works. If I thought prayer didn't work, I would not waste my time praying.

I learned that and how prayer works by actually praying, a lot. To pray is to be in relationship with God. Deep interpersonal relationships communicate, a lot. 

Prayer "works." What does this mean? As I see it, from engaging in hours of weekly praying for the past 36 years (since 1977, at least)....

  • Praying brings me into relationship with God, experientially. I meet with God, in prayer.
  • I experience and sense the presence of God, with me. This is important because experience, not theory, breeds conviction.
  • I engage and co-partner with God in God's redemptive mission. I experience God's guiding hand, and can empirically corroborate this. 
  • I have seen many, many things happen and change as a result of praying. I have 3000+ journal pages as a testimony to this. (BTW - I reject a B.F. Skinnerian philosophical naturalism that attempts to "reduce all mystery to knowledge.") I can make a case for the causal efficacy of praying as co-laboring with God.
  • A life of praying recalibrates, daily, my heart to the heart of God.
  • A life of praying has changed me. For the better, I believe. Note: for the Christian theist "better" is understood in terms of the "best" that is Jesus.
  • A life of praying renders me less anxious and fearful and feeling alone. Again, this is a palpable, existential, living reality.
Prayer changes things and prayer changes me. Therefore I pray. 

The 4th-century theologian John  Chrysostom, in a moment of joyful realization and remembering, wrote:



"The potency of prayer hath subdued the strength of fire; it hath bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases, repelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. Prayer is an all-efficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine which is never exhausted, a sky unobscured by clouds, a heaven unruffled by the storm. It is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings." (Thank you P.H. for sending me this.)

I'm going to get alone today and meet with God. And pray.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Monroe - A Hub of Heroin Trafficking


This past year I have known several people in Monroe who have died of heroin overdose. My community is now a "hub of heroin trafficking" (see here - and, we knew this young man - he used to come to Redeemer). 

"Ryan [Barath] is just one of 19 heroin and opioid related deaths in Monroe last year.
Michigan State Police say use of the highly-addictive drug has been rapidly increasing because it's cheap and easy to get. 
Monroe is located between Toledo and Detroit and is being called a hub for heroin trafficking.
Lt. Tony Cuevas says an undercover drug unit called Mantis was started last year.
"Our location is unique, because we are in between two metropolitan areas and we do get a lot of traffic."
Already this year Mantis has investigated 24 cases of heroin trafficking in Monroe.
"We are focusing our efforts out on 1-75 and US-23 to try to combat some of these drug trafficking issues," says Cuevas."
Monroe "currently has the highest heroin addiction per capita rate in the state." (See "New Article Highlights A Forever Recovery’s Plans to Stem & Stop Heroin Addiction in Monroe, MI.")
See:

"New, troubling heroin addiction trend grips southeast Michigan" (Detroit Free Press)


This is from whitehouse.gov. - 

Michigan At-a-Glance: 
 The number of meth lab seizure incidents in Michigan increased 290%, from 174 incidents in 2007 to 679 incidents in 2009, according to the El Paso Intelligence Center’s National Seizure System (EPIC-NSS). 
 Approximately 9 percent of Michigan residents reported past-month use of illicit drugs; the national average was 8 percent. 
 The rate of drug-induced deaths in Michigan exceeds the national average

"Entering God's Rest" (Sermon)


Last Sunday (11/10/13) my sermon, "Entering God's Rest," was out of Hebrews 4:1-11. I felt this was an important message for what we are doing at Redeemer.

If you want to listen to it online it's here, along with my Power Point presentation.

If There Is No God Then Moral Principles Are Purely Ephemeral

RMS zip-lining






One of my MCCC philosophy students recently told me this:

"I do not believe in God, but I am not an atheist. I believe in morality."

I responded:

"Then you are an atheist. And, on atheism morality (of the objective, binding, adjudicating kind) does not exist."

This student's belief in morality, with moral claims such as Racism is wrong, should make them consider theism. The theistic worldview provides a sufficient metaphysical foundation for objective moral values and duties. Which means: morality makes sense on the worldview of theism; morality does not make sense on the worldview of atheism as philosophical naturalism. 

Given philosophical naturalism, objective values are at most epiphenomena. Because "value" does not inhere in matter. 

Note that this does not mean atheists cannot act morally. Indeed, many of them do. But, following Nietzsche, they are like those village atheists who have co-opted Christian theistic morality into their professed atheism. In this they are irrational.

If there is an all-loving God, then objective moral values would find their warrant in the commands of such a God. This is to say that objective (= binding on all persons) moral values find their warrant in the being of God. This would provide a metaphysical grounding for morality, and thus there would be actions that are really wrong, objectively. But if atheism is true then the moral impulse is absurd (see here especially the atheistic existentialists such as Sartre). 

I can't help but think of C.S. Lewis's idea that "Right and Wrong are clues to the meaning of the universe." Lewis writes: 

"These, then, are the two points I wanted to make.  First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in." Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (p. 8). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Many intellectual atheists understand what I have written above. Here's a sampling.

The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that 'the good' exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men. Dostoevsky once wrote: 'If God did not exist, everything would be permitted'; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point. Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself."
- Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism Is a Humanism, 28

"The central question about moral and ethical principles concerns their ontological foundation. If they are neither derived from God nor anchored in some transcendent ground, they are purely ephemeral."
- Paul Kurtz, Forbidden Fruit: the Ethics of Secularism, 65

"If there is no single moral authority [i.e. no God] we have to in some sense 'create' values for ourselves ... [and] that means that moral claims are not true or false… you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error."
- Julian Baggini, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, cf. pp. 41-51

"The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose [i.e. no God], no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference." ‘God’s Utility Function’, Scientific American, November 1995, p.85) Dawkins concedes: "It is pretty hard to defend absolutist morals on grounds other than religious ones."The God Delusion, p.232)



This Sunday at Redeemer (Nov. 17, 2013)

Queens, New York City


I'm preaching at Redeemer this Sunday morning on Hebrews 4:12-13 - "The word of God is living and active..." As usual, we'll see that the meaning of this beautiful text is deeper than what we have previously thought.

10:30 AM


Linda and I are leading our Young Adult Relationship Seminar Sunday night at our home. We've got a great group coming! After the seminar we'll all chip in and order pizzas. 

7 PM - RSVP PLEASE! 

For questions email me at johnpiippo@msn.com.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In True Prayer We Lay Our SmartPhones Down (PrayerLife)

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
- Jesus, in Matthew 5:8

The act of praying brings focus to the heart. The more we pray-as-keeping-company-with-God, the more we experience a decluttering of the heart. This is the achievement of purity.

A pure heart wills one thing. (Kierkegaard) Sees one thing. Hears one voice. Is centered. Is not distracted by other voices. The achievement of heart-purity brings success in relationships, and in life. This is "One thing" theology.

Jesus said, "You still lack one thing." (Luke 18:22)

The blind man  who was healed replied, "One thing I do know." (John 9:25)

Paul wrote, "One thing I do." (Phil. 3:13)

Peter counseled, "Do not forget this one thing." (2 Peter 3:8)

In 1 Cor. 2:2 Paul said: "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

"One thing" language is the discourse of the pure heart. In true prayer, we lay our Tweeter down.

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our iPhones... (Ps. 137)

After years of praying and praying and praying, and getting alone with God, concentration and God-focus comes easier. One of the things God does in a praying person's life is strip away distractions. One dwells more and more in the clearing than in the clutter. God comes to pull us out of the clutter and escort us into his fields. There, we behold Him. There is where the pure in heart towards God are blessed.