Thursday, February 27, 2014

Feb. 27, 2014 - Return of the Polar Vortex


Our front yard, 10:20 AM, 2/27/14

Temperature
8.6 °F
Feels Like -10 °F


Tonight
-9 °F
Clear

It's back.

Greg Boyd's "Present Perfect" - Discussion Notes

Lake Michigan off Holland State Park (MI)


I'm meeting by phone conference tonight with the 15 pastors in my Spiritual Formation Tele-Class. We've all been praying an hour a day, 5 days a week, for the past month. I'll ask each of them to share for 1-2 minutes on: One thing God has spoken to you during these prayer times.

We'll also discuss Greg Boyd's book Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now. I'll lead this discussion. Here are the notes I'll be sharing from. I'm connecting Greg's ideas with my own phenomenology of spiritual formation. (All quotes from Greg's book unless otherwise indicated.)














***
GREG BOYD – PRESENT PERFECT

A PERSONAL EXAMPLE

One of the things I have done for many years (44 of them!) is: attend to the present moment, and to what God is doing now. For example, when my sons were little I would often return from a prayer time and look in the window of our living room from the outside. I would see Linda, Dan, and Josh. And I would thank God for this moment, and savor it to its depths.

And: many times throughout the year I step outside when there is a clear sky and look at the starry skies. I take in the moment, now.

Ps. 118:24 says: This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.
(NRSV)

Greg quotes de Caussade – “No moment is trivial since each one contains a divine kingdom, and heavenly sustenance.” (115)

“NOW” IS WHERE GOD LIVES

God is present in all places at all times.

          God is part of our surroundings each and every moment. (10)

          “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

Being absorbed in the past or future causes us to miss the wonder of the present. (14)

          God is the great “I AM,” not the great “I was” or the great “I will be.”

(See W.L.C. on God as temporal in relation to the creation, and non-temporal without the creation. See Craig’s essay “Timelessness and Omnitemporality”)

THE PRESENCE MOTIF

The only thing that’s real is this present moment. (10)

“The only thing that matters is waking up to God’s presence.” (10)

“The present moment is all that is real.” (14)

          What about the “past” and the “future?”

We only remember the past and anticipate the future NOW, in the present.

[See N.T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms, esp. Chapter 4, “Where God Dwells.” For everyone interested in the biblical "presence motif" this is a beautiful chapter!]

“Over the past twenty-plus years since my waking-up experience in the woods, I’ve become absolutely convinced that remaining aware of God’s presence is the single most important task in the life of every follower of Jesus.” (15)

How do we do this?

“No spiritual discipline is easier or more accessible to everyone than this one, for waking up to God’s presence requires nothing more than remembering God’s presence each moment.” (19)

This is challenging. “The challenge is not in doing the discipline: it’s in remembering the discipline.

Remind yourself that you are in the presence of God.

Greg writes “Are you awake?” on every page of his sermon notes.

A breakthrough can come where reminders are not needed anymore. Greg has yet to experience this. Brother Lawrence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade, and Frank Laubach did.

THE PAULINE EMPHASIS ON “IN CHRIST” as SUPPORTIVE OF FOCUSING ON “NOW”

Paul, in his letters, uses the term “in Christ” (with variations)180 times.

Quoting Frank Laubach: “The most wonderful discovery of all is, to use the words of Paul, “Christ liveth in me.” He dwells in us, walks in our minds, reaches out through our hands, speaks with our voices, if we respond to His every whisper.” (118)

When we live “in Christ” and abide in him, an otherwise trivial moment is transformed into a Kingdom moment, because we “are allowing God to reign over it.” (125)

BEING AND DOING

I embrace the classical distinction between “being” and “doing.” Namely, that authentic “doing” (deeds, acts) comes from “being”; viz., from one’s heart-connectedness to Christ.

This brings discernment. (See Ruth Haley Barton’s distinction between “discerning” and “deciding.”

“Be aware that God is closer to you than the air you breathe. Don’t try to feel his presence. In fact, don’t try to do anything at all. Simply be mindful of the fact that you are, in this present moment, submerged in the ocean of God’s perfect love.” (11)

Jesus said that “fruit-bearing” comes out of the abiding relationship.
John 15:5 - I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

ABIDE IN CHRIST

To “remain” in Christ means “to take up permanent residence” (Greek meno).

“Branches don’t visit a vine once in a while on special occasions. Rather, branches are permanently attached to their source of life. So too, followers of Jesus are to take up permanent residence in Christ, remaining attached to him at all times as their source of their Life.” (34)

“The New Testament’s command to love is not only difficult to obey, it’s impossible—if we’re trying to obey it on our own power. If we’re not operating out of the fullness of Life that comes from God, everything we do—including our noblest attempts to love—is inevitably motivated by a desire to acquire Life.” (106)

The challenge, then, is not first and foremost to love like Christ. The challenge is to live in Christ’s love, for only then can we love as Christ loved. (108)

NO STRIVING ALLOWED!

“Remember, it’s not your job to make anything happen. Your only task during this time is to be open to whatever the Lord has for you.” (77-78)
It’s not true that: “If you build it, He will come.” (That’s from a movie, not Scripture.)

          It is true that: “When He comes, He will build it.”
          Build what?
His kingdom. And, he wants to use you in the building process. 
THAT is the point of human effort, the moment when we work hard at all He calls us to do.

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION HAPPENS IN THE CHRIST-ABIDING RELATIONSHIP

“I have found the simple practice of remaining aware of God’s presence each moment brings me to the point toward which all other disciplines aspire. It is, I’m convinced, the bedrock of a vibrant relationship with God and the key to transformation into the likeness of Christ.” (19)

          To be formed and transformed, abide in Christ.

          Gal. 4:19 – be formed into Christlikeness.

IMPORTANT: “Information” by itself doesn’t transform the human heart

Therefore: I’m focusing on connecting people to Jesus, and nurturing this relationship.

“Acquiring information in and of itself isn’t able to bring about lasting transformation.” (87)

“We’ll simply become a slightly more informed slave to whomever or whatever programmed us. This explains why a person can believe they’re loved by God and yet feel unloved and unlovable most of the time.” (88)

“No amount of resolutions, sermons, Bible studies, self-help books, or conferences will rectify this situation if they just provide us with more information. There is only one thing to be done, as James says, and that is to submit ourselves to God—not just intellectually, theoretically, or abstractly, but truly. Which means, submitting ourselves in the now—for the only actual life we have to submit is the one we have this moment.
The only solution to double-mindedness, in other words, is to become single-minded—to seek the Kingdom of God first, in this moment, and in every subsequent moment.” (89)

Western Christians “believe that acquiring information is the key to helping us grow spiritually and solving our personal and social problems.” (98)

Sometimes information can help someone grow. Sometimes information can help people solve problems.

But knowledge “does not on its own empower us to become more Christlike. When it comes to living in the Kingdom, moment-by-moment, our typical Western confidence in information is misplaced.” (98-99)

Western Christians are today “massively informed.” Yet…

“Despite all our sermons, Bibles studies, books, seminars, and conferences, we are, to a large degree, spiritually dead. We don’t manifest much of the uniquely beautiful Life of the Kingdom. This clearly isn’t a problem created by any lack of information or a problem that can be solved by acquiring more information.
In fact, one could argue that our historically unprecedented confidence in the power of information is part of the problem.” (99)

We need a “reprogramming.” Only God can do that.

 “The challenge of living in the Kingdom is not about figuring it out. There’s really nothing to figure out! The challenge, rather, is in submitting to it.” (100)

“Submitting to God in the present moment transforms us in a way no amount of knowledge can. When we submit to God in the present moment, his Life flows in us and through us. This Life frees us from the automatic programming of our flesh-mind-set and the “pattern of this world” and leads us into conformity with Jesus Christ.” (101)

I'll add: the challenge is to "be still" and be figured out by God.

Be yourself exegeted in the presence of God.

IDOLATRY HINDERS LIVING PRESENTLY

“We are rarely in the present moment when we’re hungry and chasing after false gods. This is yet another aspect of the grand illusion that entraps us. The very process of trying to acquire Life on our own forces us to miss most of life, for real life is always in the present moment. When we live as though we can acquire Life from things other than God, we inevitably live as though reality wasn’t always in the present moment.” (52)

“Let go of the world as a source of Life. Offer yourself up to God moment-by-moment.” (75)

          Let go of the false sources of life.

          Trust in the real source of life, which is God.

          NOTE: This is an active, intentional life-stance.

          “Get free of idol addiction and become aware of God’s presence.”

RELIGION CAN BLIND US FROM THE GOD-RELATIONSHIP

Religion can become a substitute for the living God.

“If we’re not careful, our own religion can blind us to the ever-present God. Instead of relying on the living God to give us the worth and significance we crave, we can easily start relying on religious traditions, doctrines, and ethical rules for Life… The more tightly we cling to our religion, the more our judgments will blind us to the living God who is always active right under our noses.” (134)

“Traditions, doctrines, and ethics are important. But they help us enter into Kingdom Life only to the extent that they facilitate a loving relationship with God, ourselves, and others in the present.” (134)

“If we can’t discern God’s presence in our day-to-day lives, it’s unlikely that we’ll find him at a revival. We may find a lot of excitement, great speakers, superb music, and maybe even some “signs and wonders.” But unless a person learns to find God as much in the ordinary as in the exciting, the exciting will do nothing more than serve as a momentary distraction.” (135)


TRINITARIAN THEISM AND THE PERICHORETIC UNION

“Our deepest hunger is only satisfied when we’re rightly related to God. Only our Creator can give us the fullness of Life we crave.” (45)

“Why did God create us with this hunger? Because he wants to share himself with us. He wants us to participate in his divine nature (1 Peter 1:4). As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he longs for us to join in his eternal dance of perfect, ecstatic love…   The Trinity is our home, and we are never fully satisfied or at peace until we rest in him.” (45)

LIBERATION!

“To die to the flesh is the greatest liberation possible. Now one is in a position to live in the moment and feel fully alive.” (53)

We are freed from the grand illusion that we can meet our own needs.

“Freedom from fear and dread is one decision away, and it can be made in this moment. In fact, it can only be made in this moment. Freedom is simply a matter of letting go of everything as a source of ultimate worth and significance as we surrender ourselves completely to our ever-present, loving Father.” (68)

Greg suggests this exercise.
·       
  •      Begin by reminding yourself that the only thing that is real is this moment.
  • ·        The only thing that matters is that you are submerged in God’s love right now.
  • ·        Remind yourself that God’s perfect love expressed in the cross of Christ engulfs you, right now.
  • ·        Remind yourself that you could not be more loved that you are this moment.
  • ·        You could not have more worth or significance than you have at this moment.
  • ·        Remember that this is not because of anything you have achieved in your life, but is because of who God is and who you are.
  • ·        Remind yourself that this perfect love never began, never ends, is never threatened, and never wavers. (69)
  • ·        “Relinquish all your possessions, achievements, reputation, future aspirations, health, beauty, relationships, and anything else that could possibly be a false source of worth and significance to you.”
  • This is a way to “practice the presence of God,” and a way to become free of anxieties, fears, and the fear of death.

  • Our treasure is no longer in things that moths can eat and thieves can steal (Matthew 6:19-20). Our heart is no longer set on things that aging and misfortune can affect. Our life is securely hidden in Christ, whose love never changes (Colossians 3:1-3). In fact, to the extent that we’re surrendered to God every moment, we’ve “been crucified with Christ and [we] no longer live, but Christ lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:20). (71)

“Anchored in the fullness of God’s abundant Life right now, we’re freed from the pointless, idolatrous exercise of judging our past or stressing out over the future.” (71)

THE TRANSFORMATION

Freedom from judgmentalism. (pp. 121 ff.)

Released into social activism – “Jesus was a social activist.” (138)

E.g. – 8 years ago we started a Soup Kitchen in our Monroe community.
“People are often impressed by large political or religious rallies calling for social change, but the main way the mustard-seed Kingdom expands and transforms the world is by God’s people staying awake and responding to him each moment.” (138)

“The truth is that the hope of the world resides in people learning to humbly surrender to the Life of God moment-by-moment. The key to changing the world is to change our hearts and consciousness. As we are freed from our idolatry and learn how to abide in God’s fullness of Life, God uses us to impact and influence others and the mustard-seed Kingdom grows (Matthew 13:31).” (140)


NOTE: How we have structured our seminary program at Payne, and before that at Palmer.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Sundae on My Head!





We raised $4000+ for the pastors in the Amazon in Peru.

As the sundae is being built on my head I'm doing some studying, reading philosopher Irving Copi's classic text Symbolic Logic

Attend the Solitary God-Conference (PrayerLife)

Sterling State Park, Monroe

Next week it will be my privilege to speak and teach at two pastor's conferences. I am always grateful for the opportunity to do this. I know God will give me some personal take-aways when I'm there. I'll be spoken to by God. God will teach me some things that will stay with me. I'll be with colleagues who are pastors, and that always serves to instruct and enrich my life.

Later in the spring I will attend a conference and listen to others preach and teach. I will have an open heart and discern what God wants me to learn from this time. I feel certain this will be good for me, since God is calling me to attend.

As good as these events are for me, the heart and soul of my God-encountering spiritual life remains my solitary prayer times with God. Today, right now as I type, I am attending the Solitary God Conference. God is an excellent conference speaker, with an impressive bio. 

Yet...  

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Mark 5:16

Therefore, as a follower of Jesus, I do, too.

I agree with Greg Boyd, who writes:

"I’ve known people who have spent a great deal of time and money traveling the world “chasing God” at various revivals, all the while missing what God was doing—and what God wanted to do—in and through their own lives. 

The fact is, if we can’t discern God’s presence in our day-to-day lives, it’s unlikely that we’ll find him at a revival. We may find a lot of excitement, great speakers, superb music, and maybe even some “signs and wonders.” But unless a person learns to find God as much in the ordinary as in the exciting, the exciting will do nothing more than serve as a momentary distraction."

- Greg Boyd, Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now, p. 135

I need God, today. Now. Presently. The good news is that God's presence is available to me, 24/7. 

God is doing something in me, now. God desires to speak to me, now.

Assume this when you pray.

Home Groups (Small Groups) - How We Do Them




Our church has Home Groups - 6-12 people per group. Here's how we do them.

Our Home Groups meet either weekly or bi-weekly.

The structure is:

1. Do the home group Bible Study lesson we have prepared.
2. Share prayer requests and pray for one another.
3. Food/snacks.

Some of our Home Groups alternate homes to meet in, others meet in one home consistently.

Our Home Group Bible study lesson is put together by someone in our church. It's a 1-page handout with questions. (See below for this week's example.) It's based on the verses we will preach on for the coming Sunday. Right now we're preaching through the book of Hebrews.

Small group leaders should be able to facilitate the discussion and, as much as possible, keep it on track. They don't have to be Bible scholars. They have the questions in advance and look at them before the meeting.

The Home Group questions are placed in the lobby on Sunday morning where HG-ers can pick them up in advance of their meeting. And, the questions are emailed to the leaders the Saturday before the weekly meetings. 

***
Hebrews 11:4
4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.  NIV

Hebrews chapter 11 is all about faith. The writer looks at those who have gone before us in the faith.

1.     Read Genesis 4:2b-7.
a.     Why was Abel’s offering better?
b.     Who defines what pleases God?
c.      How do we please God (what is the single criterion)?

2.     The writer of Hebrews says Abel still speaks to us today.
a.     If Christ’s work ended sacrificial offerings to God, how does Abel’s example apply to modern believers?

3.     This chapter of Hebrews looks at those from Old Testament times who had faith that pleased God.
a.     Define and describe Old Testament faith.
b.     Define and describe faith for the contemporary follower of Christ.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

WORLD RELIGIONS AND CHRISTIANITY CLASS THIS SPRING

WORLD RELIGIONS AND CHRISTIANITY

Instructor: Dr. John Piippo

Meets: Thursday evenings, 5:30-6:45 (March 27 – May 1); 5:30 – 7:30 (May 8 – May 29)


This class will examine the world’s major religions and some of the lesser, yet relevant religions. We will compare them with Christianity, and discuss ways to communicate our faith in Christ to people of different religions.


Students will be responsible to purchase any books required for this course.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Did Our Universe have a Beginning? (Alexander Vilenkin)





For any who are interested in the question "Did our universe begin to exist?" here is physicist Alexander Vilenkin interviewed by neuroscientist Lawrence Kuhn.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Manifestations of the Spirit (not Spiritual Gifts Inventories)

Somewhere in California

Tonight at our Prayer and Healing class a question was raised about spiritual gifts. One of the tings I pointed out was that the early church did not hand out "Spiritual Gift Inventories" so people could find out what their spiritual gift is. I think that's a misunderstanding. The situation was far more fluid and organic than that. 

In 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 Paul writes:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Gordon Fee, in his brilliant commentary on First Corinthians, writes:

""Each one," standing in the emphatic first position as it does, is [Paul's[ way of stressing diversity; indeed, this is how that diversity will be emphasized throughout the rest of the paragraph. He does not intend to stress that every last person in the community has his or her own gift...  That is not Paul's concern. This pronoun is the distributive (stressing the individualized instances) of the immediately preceding collective ("in all people"), which emphasizes the many who make up the community as a whole." (589)

Fee writes that what "each one" was "given" was not a "gift,' but a "manifestation of the Spirit." "Thus each "gift" is a "manifestation," a disclosure of the Spirit's activity in their midst... [Paul's] urgency, as vv. 8-10 make clear, is not that each person is "gifted," but that the Spirit is manifested in a great variety of ways. His way of saying this is that, "to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit."" (Ib.)

This is about the Spirit manifesting himself within the Jesus-community, and not a statement about spiritual gifts being given to people once and for all. 

Desire the manifestations of the Spirit.    


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pray to Be Interruptible (PrayerLife)

Life is a series of interruptions and choices. One gets interrupted, then chooses whether to entertain the interruption or not.

Some of the interruptions are God-opportunities. I think most God-opportunities come by way of an interruption. It goes like this. 

1. I have my day "mapped out." 
2.The phone rings. 
3. So much for my map. 

When this happens don't resent it. Instead, weigh it. Is it from God, or not? If not, dismiss it. If it is, follow it. That is, follow the Spirit's leading.

I'm thinking of something that happened on a Sunday morning at Redeemer. We have a circle of prayer in the back of the sanctuary before the God-event begins. Starting time is officially 10:30. God, however, refuses to go by this. The Spirit of God is hovering over the sanctuary hours before this, when the first person arrives to open up the building, and when the worship team does its sound check. 

I stood with our prayer leaders and shared that God told me that, on this particular Sunday morning, I was to preach first, and we would worship afterwards. I was not clear on how the worship would look after the preaching. In our context this kind of confession not only does not freak people out, it actually encourages them because of their trust that God will show up and make his ways clear to us. 

10:30 came. I was on the worship team playing guitar. People stood up and began to sing. And dance. Some were shouting praises. My plan was that we'd do this song, and then I'd preach. Instead, I looked at our worship leader Holly and said, "keep playing." Because "worship" began before it was supposed to! It was explosive, dynamic, moving. God interrupted my plans. He had his way. This is always good.

"Interruptibility" is a mark of a Jesus-follower. It's like being in an army. Your commander comes just as you are about to fall asleep and says, "Time to move - now!" And you move. People who can't have their plans interrupted are not fit to serve in the Kingdom of God.

Henri Nouwen wrote that he used to complain about his life being interrupted until he realized that the interruptions were his life. This is not only a great and adventurous way to live, it is the only way to live since interruptions are the norm. 

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." (Proverbs 16:9)

"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." (Proverbs 19:21)

Pray to be interruptible.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Meditation on Scripture & Hearing God (PrayerLife)


"As fundamental a step as we can take . . . is learning to meditate - learning first to hear God's word, and let it inform and take root in us. This may be extremely difficult, for the churches have no courses on meditation, despite the fact that it is an art that must be learned from those who have mastered it, and despite the fact that the supreme task of the church is to listen to the Word of God."
- Elizabeth O'Connor, in Richard J. Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, Kindle Locations 72-74

Is the supreme task of the church to listen to the Word of God? I think a case can be made for this, at least for its great importance.

Remember that by "church" we mean: a people movement called out by God to proclaim the good news of God's rule and reign, in Christ and by the Spirit.

Every movement has a commander. A leader. In the Jesus Movement, God is our leader. The Lord is our Shepherd.

If the Lord is our Shepherd, then we are the "sheep of his pasture." Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:27)

We are Jesus-followers. The game we play is "Follow the Leader." This is called "obedience." If we don't hear the voice of our Leader and sense his promptings, "following" won't make a lot of sense. This listening..., really hearing..., from God seems supremely important. Hearing God brings us into the Great Conversation.

If you desire to pray as conversation with God, you will do well to spend time meditating on Scripture. Good places to begin are Psalm 23, John chapters 14, 15, and 16, and Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7. Marinate in these verses. Slow-cook in them. Chew on them. To meditate on Scripture is to chew on it. The more you chew, the more it becomes assimilable to your spirit. God's truths get into you; they become (in a sense) you. When this happens a lot of God-hearing takes place.

To meditate is to focus on one thing, e.g., on one verse, or a part of a verse. Such as - "Believe in me," says Jesus in John 14:1. Or - "The Lord is my shepherd...," in Ps. 23:1. Meditate on things like this and God will bring them from the mind into the heart.

In my prayer times I usually meditate on portions of Scripture. It is common, in the middle of these meditations, to hear God speak to me. And, BTW, God has much to say to you, today. Richard Foster writes:

"Let me tell you how much God desires our presence. How much God longs to hear from us. How much God yearns to communicate with us. At the very heart of God is the passionate disposition to be in loving fellowship with you ... with me. From the human side of this equation it is meditative prayer that ushers us into this divine-human fellowship." (Ib., Kindle Locations 74-76)