Sunday, November 30, 2014

31 Days With the Real Jesus - Day 5 - Jesus' Birth was an Act of War

Day 5 - Jesus' Birth was an Act of War

C.S. Lewis referred to it as "The Great Invasion." In chapter 7 of Mere Christianity Lewis writes:

"One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe--a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin...  Christianity agrees... that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.

Enemy-occupied territory--that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery. I know someone will ask me, 'Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil-hoofs and horns and all?' Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is 'Yes, I do.' I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him better I would say to that person, 'Don't worry. If you really want to, you will. Whether you'll like it when you do is another question.'"

The most a-cultural telling of Christmas is found in Revelation 12:1-7. We read:

"A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

And there was war in heaven."

Robert Mounce says that: 1) the "woman" here is not Mary, but the messianic community, the "ideal Israel" (231); 2) out of the messianic community is born a "child," a Messiah; 3) the seven-headed red dragon is Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2); 4) Satan is looking to devour this child; AKA Jesus the Christ.

Mary has already been prophetically warned about such things. In Luke 2 we read that...

...the old man "Simeon took him [baby Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."

Violent night
Holy night
All's not calm
All's not bright

Christmas Eve - that violent night when the Light of the World descended into darkness...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

31 Days With the Real Jesus - Day 4 - Jesus Descended into Greatness

Candles, in the Church of the Nativity, Jerusalem

While most people are trying to move up the social honor-shame ladder and thus be upwardly mobile, the Word (God the Son) moved down when he became flesh and tabernacled (dwelt) among us. That was a move downwards. The Word exercised downward mobility. Love came down.

This act of downward mobility is called the "kenosis," after a word in Philippians 2:7. Phil. 2:5-11 expresses the entire idea.

 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing (Greek kenosisἐκένωσεν ]
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

New Testament scholar Wayne Grudem writes:

"The best understanding of this passage is that it talks about Jesus giving up the status and privilege that were his in heaven. He did not "cling to his own advantage" but "emptied himself" or "humbled himself" for our sake, and came to live as a man. (Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, 240)

In John 17:5 Jesus spoke of the "glory" he had with the Father "before the world was made." In the kenosis he had given up that glory (status, privilege),  but would regain it upon his return to heaven.

I like how Paul expresses this in 2 Corinthians 8:9 - For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. Here we have Christ, who temporarily gave up the privilege and honor that he deserved, for you and I.

Today think of the glorious status Christ gave up, for you, when he humbled himself and took on the form of humanity.

Jesus descended into greatness.


The issue of what Christ emptied himself of has been a by the preexistent divine Son, whereby in "becoming human" he took the "form" of a slave - one who expressed his humanity in lowly service to others." (384)

See also Gordon Fee's article in Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of God, ed. Stephen Evans. Fee writes:

"An orthodox biblical Christology almost certainly must embrace some form of a 'kenotic' [emptying] understanding of the Incarnation, that the One who was truly God, also in his Incarnation lived a truly human life, a life in which he grew both in stature and in wisdom and in understanding (Luke 2:52), learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb. 5:8), and who as Son of the Father did not know the day or the hour (Mark 13:32). (Grudem, p. 43)

Friday, November 28, 2014

31 Days With the Real Jesus - Day 3 - Jesus Was Born of a Virgin

Outside of Brasilia, Brazil


34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

- Luke 1:34-35

In 2000 Father Stephen Rooney, a local priest in the Monroe area. graciously invited me to speak at the Roman Catholic Unity Service in January 2001. I will never forget that evening for two reasons.

that was the evening my father died. He was suffering and dying as I was speaking. My friend Stephen knew about this, and was praying for me as I spoke.

Secondly, St Michael's was packed out as I spoke on the Jesus-unity Father Rooney and I have. I used the "Stations of the Cross" that encompassed the sanctuary to illustrate this. I affirmed the truth of every "station" except for the "Veronica" story (the woman who, according to legend, wiped Jesus' bloody face with her cloak). One of my affirmations was, of course, the virgin birth of Christ.

The Pope at that time was Benedict. He had just published a book that defended, among other things, the virgin birth. Benedict reasons like this. (From The Infancy Narratives.)

1. Christian teaching affirms that "Jesus was the son of God and was not conceived through sexual intercourse but by the power of the Holy Spirit, one part of the divine trinity." 
2. The story of the virgin birth is not just a reworking of earlier Greek or Egyptian legends and archetypal concepts but something totally new in history. (Contra the intellectually embarrassing "Zeitgeist" mini-phenomenon.)
3. God is a Creator. God creates. God invents. This is part of the nature of God.
4. God is omnipotent.
5. Therefore God's creative word is able to bring about something completely new. (See my post God's Commands are Authoritative Words that Have Illocutionary Force.) 

Benedict's reasoning is grounded in the understanding of the power of God. An all-powerful being is, by logical extension, able to bring about any logically possible state of affairs. "If God does not also have power over matter, then he simply is not God," Benedict writes. "But he does have this power, and through the conception and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation."

Could the story of Jesus' virgin birth been invented by early Christians to spice up the Jesus story? New Testament scholar Ben Witherington writes:

"I would argue that it is highly unlikely Christians would make up a story about a virginal conception, precisely because it would lead to the charge of Jesus' illegitimacy by opponents of the Christian movement. There must have been some historical substance to this tradition for both Matthew and Luke to refer to the matter, independently of each other and in differing ways." (See Witherington's article "Misconceptions About the Virginal Conception: Our lack of access to narratives about Jesus' birth shouldn't lead us to assume the miracle of his conception didn't happen.")
Jesus was born of a virgin. This is an unequivocal truth of Christian faith.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

31 Days With the Real Jesus - Day 2 - Jesus Is the Agent of Creation

Linda, walking in Jerusalem


Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnation of God the Son. God became one of us. Years ago I heard an analogy that still makes sense to me.

If you were an architect observing ants build an anthill and wanted to share your architectural knowledge with them, what would be a good way to do this? It would be to become an ant, live in the ant world, and communicate in ant language to them. You would take on "ant flesh."

By analogy, this is what God has done for us. God, in his Son, took on human flesh and lived among us.

I am still captivated by the brilliance and beauty of this divine strategy. What makes this story so stunning is what God the Son gave up to come to us. The One through whom all things were created took on our flesh-and-bone, ever-so-limited humanity.

The everlasting supremacy and majesty of the Son is seen in John 1:3, where we are told that through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. God the Son is the agent of creation! New Testament scholar writes that John 1:3 "describes Jesus as the agent of creation, an action that Genesis attributes to God alone. Thus, the Johannine narrator starts his story by claiming that Jesus does what the one God does, is eternal as the one God is eternal, and, as the Word, “was God.”" (Hurtado, Larry; Keith, Chris,Jesus among Friendsand Enemies: A Historical and Literary Introduction to Jesus in the Gospels, Kindle Locations 1037-1039)

Paul understands this when he writes:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)

During this Christmas season, orient your heart and mind towards Christ, who is God the Son come to earth in the form of a person. Think today of his supremacy and majesty.

Then think of our majestic Creator who took on the created form of humanity.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

31 Days With the Real Jesus - Day 1 - Jesus Is the Pre-existent Son of God

Retreat center outside Brasilia, Brazil


One major difference between Christianity and the other major world religions is that, in Christianity, God came to us. In the other world religions we are left on our own to try to discover God (or achieve enlightenment, as in Buddhism). 

Christmas is about God coming to us, in the form of his Son. This is called the "Incarnation." (Which means: "in flesh.") At Christmas God took on a human body.

We see this in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. It reads: In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1-2) 

Who was "the Word?" We find out in John 1:14: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Son of God, also referred to as God the Son, came to us from the Father and took on human flesh. This is the language of God as a Trinity of persons. God is a "triune" being: Father, Son, and Spirit. 

God, as I've heard J.P. Moreland express it, is a three-personed being. J.P. asks us to imagine a 3-headed person: 3 heads, 3 distinct personalities, sharing the same body. 

The idea of God as a Trinity makes conceptual sense of the idea that God is love. This is because love requires relationship. In the very being of God there is, and everlastingly has been, loving relationship. God, in his being, is relational. I love this way of thinking about God! It is so rich and wide and deep and long and high. 

Early Christians came up with a word to express the 3-personed being of God: perichoresis. This word is made of a prefix, "peri," which means "around." Like the peri-meter of a circle. "Choresis" is the word we get "choral" from, which can mean to sing, but also to dance, as in a "chorus line." "Perichoresis" is to dance in a circle. With this word our 3-Personed God is described as Father, Son, and Spirit engaged in an everlasting circle dance. I like to refer to this as the Big Dance, into which we are invited (John 14,15, and 16).

God the Son who became flesh has existed everlastingly in the Big Dance that is the being of God. Then, in the infant Jesus, God became one of us. 

To understand the the Real Jesus we must begin with the Incarnation of God the Son, in whom there is neither beginning nor end. Jesus is the pre-existent God the Son, who has existed everlastingly.

This view of God as Trinity has been called "social trinitarianism"; viz., that in the being of God there is a "society" of three persons. See here, for academic ideas on this. But not, of course, for Islam, which vehemently denies the Christian idea of God as a Trinity of 3 Persons. Islam misunderstands this, as Judeo-Christianity has never claimed there are three Gods.

I also love the book The Shack as a way of figuratively expressing Trinitarian theism - i.e., God as a 3-Personed Being.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why Bayer and Figdor's Atheistic 10 Non-commandments Cannot Make a Theist "Happy"

In response to my post B writes:

“I fail to see how the statement 'there is no God' would place you into the category of unhappy people. Could you please clarify? I don't think that the claim of existence or non-existence of any deity is directly linked to happiness. I know miserable theists and atheists, and happy theists and atheists.

Thank you B for your question. I’m going to try to clarify.

We need to define “happiness.” In a utilitarian theory such as Bayer and Figdor’s “happy” means “pleasure” and “unhappy” means “pain.” “Good” means what gives most people pleasure most of the time, and “bad” means what gives most people pain most of the time. (Note: I have not read the book, just the review. But it’s easy to see they are utilitarians. If they mean something different by “happy” then I’ll need to be corrected.)

Pleasure and pain can be physical and emotional.

Beliefs can cause emotional pain. This includes both true and false beliefs. If I believe the lump under my skin is cancerous I may experience emotional pain, regardless of the truth or falsity of the belief. Or, e.g., a young woman in our Monroe community has been missing for several weeks. The beliefs that she may have been abducted and held captive, or that she might not be alive, cause great emotional pain.

Bayer and Figdor’s non-commandment V is a belief, perhaps the core belief of atheism. This belief gives me, as a theist, no emotional pleasure or happiness. I think belief V is false, and significantly so. This is much like Richard Dawkins’s existential displeasure and profound unhappiness at, e.g., Antony Flew’s book There Is a God. The fact that people have certain beliefs that are significantly false can make one “unhappy.”

My belief that there is a God is the source of pleasure and a life of flourishing. Everything changed for me when I converted from a practical atheism to theism. I transitioned from existential pain to existential pleasure.

If non-commandment VIII is true (which I doubt because of problems with utilitarian ethics) – “We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy” – then, on this non-commandment, the atheistic belief that there is no God makes me unhappy. In itself this poses no problem for me, because all beliefs marginalize. But some marginalize more significantly than others. The atheistic core belief V dis-affirms my core belief that God exists. To expect theists to be happy with this worldview strikes me as naïve. (I would never expect to bring happiness to atheists by affirming the 10 commandments and the worldview that makes sense of them.)

Finally, this means that the atheist acts immorally (given V and VIII).

Why am I now thinking of John Lennon’s culturally and sociologically sophomoric song “Imagine?” This song envisions a non-possibility, at least in this life and in this world.  What we really have is something more like Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations.” 

Prayer and Thankfulness (PrayerLife)

Thankfulness is a core attitude of prayer. Thankfulness and rejoicing are not conditional on one's circumstances, but are "in Christ" attitudes (Philippians 4:4-7).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Coffee & Apologetics (Redeemer Ministry School)

Redeemer Ministry School
Winter Trimester

"Coffee and Apologetics"
Teacher: John Piippo

Wednesdays, 9:30 AM - 11 AM   -  First class Wed., Jan. 14
Panera Bread, Monroe

Course Description
Focal verse: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect... - 1 Peter 3:15
Students will purchase and read On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, by William Lane Craig; and will purchase the Study Guide and do it. 
Questions we will address include:

  • What difference does it make if God exists?
  • Why does anything at all exist?
  • Why did the universe begin?
  • Why is the universe fine-tuned for life?
  • Can we be good without God?
  • What about suffering?
  • Who was Jesus?
  • Did Jesus rise from the dead?
  • Is Jesus the only way to God?

This class will include a Q&A time with students. What questions do non-Christians ask that you would like to give an answer to?

To sign up:

  • send me an email -
  • call our office - 734-242-5277
  • sign up in our church lobby

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ten Non-commandments for Atheists

In my MCCC Philosophy of Religion classes one of the things I teach my students is what I call "the logic of atheism." That is, if atheism were true, what follows logically? Or: if atheism, then what kind of life do we have? To illustrate some coherent atheist reasoning I use Nietzsche's "parable of the madman" and Bertrand Russell's "A Free Man's Worship."

Three recent books that inform me are by John Gray (The Silence of Animals: One Progress and Other Myths), Julian Barnes (Nothing to Be Frightened Of), and  Peter Watson (The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God). 

Today the Huffington Post pointed me to another recent "how to live as an atheist" book - Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-first Century, by Lex Bayer and John Figdor. Bayer and Figdor give what they call 10 "non-commandments" for an atheist's life. They are:

I. The world is real, and our desire to understand the world is the basis for belief.
II. We can perceive the world only through our human senses.
III. We use rational thought and language as tools for understanding the world.
IV. All truth is proportional to the evidence.
V. There is no God.
VI. We all strive to live a happy life. We pursue things that make us happy and avoid things that do not.
VII. There is no universal moral truth. Our experiences and preferences shape our sense of how to behave.
VIII. We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy.
IX. We benefit from living in, and supporting, an ethical society.
X. All our beliefs are subject to change in the face of new evidence, including these.

I just heard of this book, and have not read it. It probably gives support for each of these. My hope is that Bayer and Figdor address the following:

Non-commandment II - "We can perceive the world only through our human senses."

Define "perception." I'll guess that, by perception, B&F mean "sense perception." If so, then this non-commandment is circular (We perceive the world by perceiving.)

Non-commandment IV - "All truth is proportional to the evidence."

This is an old and famous rephrasing of W.K. Cliifford's "It is wrong, always, everywhere, for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence." But surely this is false. If, e.g., the truth of "2 + 3 = 5" must be proportional to the evidence then we should not believe it to be true. The statement Our sense give us accurate information about the external world is in the same predicament. As are also the laws of logic (modus ponens, et. al.)

Non-commandments VI and VII - "We all strive to live a happy life. We pursue things that make us happy and avoid things that do not"; "We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy."

This is utilitarianism. Hopefully B&F will address its many internal problems.

Non-commandment VII - "There is no universal moral truth. Our experiences and preferences shape our sense of how to behave."

I'd be interested in how B&F support this, other than the trivial but true claim that if God does not exist then of course there is no universal moral truth. Note that behind VI and VIII there is no "ought" which, if God does not exist, is as it should be.

Note also that several atheists affirm the existence of objective moral values.

Non-commandment IX - "We benefit from living in, and supporting, an ethical society."

Again, this is utilitarianism. It also strikes me as trivial and I wonder if it is not also circular. Because "ethical society" most likely means "utilitarian ethics" which, by definition, "benefits" us.

I suggest non-commandment XI - Free will does not exist. If that is true than I still need explanations of volitional verbs in the non-commandments such as "desire to understand," "rational thought," "strive," "pursue," "act morally," and evaluate new "evidence."

One more thing - VIII says "We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy." But V says - "There is no God."

V leaves many people, such as myself, unhappy. V marginalizes me in the happiness universe. In fact V leaves the vast majority of the world unhappy. So I assume VIII should read something like: "We act morally when the happiness of other atheists makes us happy." Which is anti-utilitarian, since it leaves most people unhappy most of the time. What would make most people happy most of the time would be the atheist removing non-commandment (belief; statement) V. Here is where I suspect the atheist will want to convince me of the truth of V, not because it would make me happy, but because V is a universal truth. Or something like that.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ministry in Brazil Presentation - Sunday Nov. 23, 6 PM, at Redeemer

Baptist National Pastors Conference November 2014

Linda and I are back from Brazil. Thank you for praying for us!
I want to invite any of you and your friends to come to a special service Sunday night. The focus will be on praying and healing. Linda and I will share some of the many experiences we had, plus show slides and tell some of the amazing stories we saw and heard. This includes seeing physical healings and inner healings. We'll meet at 6 PM.
Those in my Prayer Class - this is an extension of this class. The focus will still be on praying. I feel led to invite everyone to this special class tomorrow night. Please pray for this evening - thank you!
I also want to add a prayer request for you all to pray about. When we left on Thursday night we prayed for a woman named Leah. Leah is probably in her early 30s. She has a large cancerous tumor in her left cheek which has severely distorted her face. I told Leah I would share this with my church family. Please pray for her. I'll tell you more of the story tomorrow night.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Muito Obrigado a Convenção Batista Nacional

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

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

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

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

Our back yard, on the river

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

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

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

Premise 2 - Objective moral values and duties do exist.

The conclusion then follows deductively:

Therefore, God exists.

Atheistic justification of the first premise is seen here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is incoherent.

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In Brazil for 1 More Day

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Brasil Pastors Conference - Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

(Here's the conference information.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pastor's Conference in Brasil - Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Praying at the Intersection of Heaven and Earth (PrayerLife)

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

Philip Yancey writes:

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

Real prayer happens where heaven and earth converge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Praying to Be a Lover (PrayerLife)

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

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

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

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

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

A lover loves.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Two Modes of Thankfulness

"The One Who Showed Mercy"

Not every mode of thankfulness is to be applauded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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