Friday, October 30, 2015

Fake (Faux) Renditions of Jesus

At Redeemer, beginning Sunday morning Nov. 22 and ending Sunday morning, Dec. 27, we're taking a break from preaching through the book of Revelation and give Six Messages On the Real Jesus. I am going to pour everything I know about Jesus into these messages!

In our attempts to introduce people to the Real Jesus we battle against a number of folk beliefs that have little or no connection to the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Here are some "folk Christian" things I see, followed by a few methodological considerations.

Folk (faux) Christian ideas include:

  • The "prosperity Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus wants to make you rich, as if that were on his kingdom-expanding agenda. The Son of Man didn't even have a roof over his head, remember? Haven't you read that everything Jesus says about money is negative? Money, said Jesus, is an alternative god.
  • The "drug Jesus"; viz., the idea that we can "smoke a little Jesus" and get high on Jesus and that abiding in Jesus is somehow analogical, physically and mentally, to drug-induced highs. I used to drug out and get high. I feel insulted when a comparison is made between being filled with the Spirit and being high on drugs. Are you kidding me?
  • The "alcoholic Jesus"; viz., the idea that "getting drunk on Jesus" is like an alcoholic drunk who staggers around incoherently and just generally makes a fool of himself and alienates himself from other sober people (as if that was the kind of behavior seen in the early church when they were accused of drunkenness, which of course it was not). In Acts 2 it's true that people thought the Jesus-followers were drunk, but it was because they were speaking in other languages, not because they were staggering around and falling into gutters like a bunch of alcoholics. It's hard enough to understand the slurred speech of a drunk much less add them speaking French or Coptic. Haven't you heard that part of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control?
  • The "rule-concerned Jesus"; viz., the idea that, e.g., the clothes we wear are either especially displeasing or pleasing to God; that wearing hats and slacks in the sanctuary is hated by God; that Jesus is primarily concerned with external physical appearance at all. Jesus looks on the human heart, not the clothes or the hairstyles or hats of people. Read the Gospels and see the Real Jesus battling against such Pharisaical legalism.
  • The "hymn-singing Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus was especially fond of the "old hymns," with "old" meaning the 19th century in Europe and America. Jesus didn't sing the old hymns, because he lived 1800 years before them. 
  • The "orderly Jesus": viz.,  the idea that Jesus is really concerned about the length of religious services and especially bent out of shape when the service "runs too long." What difference does time make if God is in the House? If God actually showed up in our houses of worship people (not all) would hang around. Remember that Jesus never followed "Robert's Rules of Order," and that the Greek word for 'Holy Spirit' is not 'Robert.'
  • The "pageantry Jesus"; viz., the Jesus who desires that buku bucks be spent on lavish, panoramic church programs that entertain "audiences" of people. Remember that Jesus and his disciples had very little money, and what $$$ they actually had was not used on "ministry programs." Jesus didn't need money to be effective.
  • The "mega Jesus"; viz., the idea that size = relevance as regards God's Kingdom, and that size is needed to change the world. Remember John 6:66, where the True Church gets downsized because it's hard to follow Jesus through the narrow gate.
  • The "balanced Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus came to show us how to balance our lives (while in actuality the Jesus-life is fundamentally imbalanced, with the love of God encompassing all things). The Real Jesus lived and lives a very unbalanced life.
  • The "non-7-11 Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus despises repetition (7 verses sung 11 times) in worship singing. Remember that tribal worship is repetitive, and Hebrew culture was tribal. Repetitive worship functions as a form of meditation which is, precisely and essentially, repetitive. Jesus isn't angry when we repeat "Yes Lord, Yes Lord" over and over and over again, right?
  • The "butler Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus is a divine butler sent to satisfy all our human goals and the establishing of our own personal kingdoms. This is the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that U. of  Notre Dame's Christian Smith has told us about. It's the religion of choice among a lot of adolescents today. But it's not Jesus. Not at all.
  • The "political Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus places his hope in nations and political systems, and that our hope is in achieving "Christian nations." Recall that Jesus is the one who refused the offer of forming a Christian nation when he was tempted by Satan. Remember that Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world."
  • The "American Jesus"; viz., the idea that "America" is the summum bonum of Jesus' plans and purposes (while saying, again, that his kingdom is not of this world... not at all). Note that whatever positive Christian influence America may have had has been lost - see Philip Jenkins's important The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. 
  • The "rule-giving Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus came not to set us free, but to pile on more rules for us to follow, thus increasing our current oppressed condition. 
  • The "King James Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus himself spoke in King James English and anyone who reads the Christian Scriptures, even in their original autographs, has just purchased a ticket to hell. Note that no biblical scholar worthy of the title looks to the KJV as the standard of accuracy. While the KJV is wonderful and has been greatly used by God, the original manuscripts are what scholars do and should study. And yes, we do (inductively) have access to them.
  • The "striving Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus did what he did and said what he said because he tried a lot harder than we do. Remember what Jesus said about himself in John 14-16, and his teachings there on remaining/dwelling/abiding in the perichoretic Triune unity of the Godhead. Abide "in the Father," not "strive."
  • The "make a decision Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus wants us to make some decision for him, and then live like hell. As if that was the essence of "salvation" (getting sozo-ed). Praise God that "salvation" is a huge, vast idea that involves way more than "making a decision." 
  • The "angry-at-you Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus gets really ticked off at you and at times is in a very bad mood regarding you, and then appoints religious fault-finding people to point this out to you and judge you and condemn you. How about this as an alternative: Jesus loves you. This you know. For the Bible tells you so. Little ones to Him belong. You are weak. He is strong.
  • The "formulaic Jesus"; viz., the idea that there are a series of steps involved in the real following of Jesus. Remember that it's all about relationship with Jesus, and relationships can never be reduced to a mere formula.
  • The hipster Jesus; viz., the idea that Jesus is just the coolest thing or person out there who would wear hipster clothes and listen to hipster music and ghettoize himself if he walked the earth today. Please note: there is not an ounce of trendiness in the real Jesus. Jesus didn't have or want or impart the "shopping anointing." That's part of what makes Jesus stand out, and why he is so different, and so radical. Jesus isn't cool. Jesus imitates no one. He's either your enemy, come to overthrow the rule of self, or he's your Lord and God. 
A Few Methodological Considerations in the Quest to Escape Folk Christianity and Follow the Real Jesus

  • Read the 4 Gospels. There you will encounter the Real Jesus
  • Read the Pauline letters as further complementary and supplementary revelation about the Real Jesus
  • Identify core elements of the Real Jesus. For example, Jesus warns us about money, and has a preferential option for the poor.
  • Interpret following Jesus through his basic message, which is the message of the kingdom of God/heaven. To know Jesus, everything stands or falls with this.
  • Discern nationalistic, ethnic, and temporal frameworks that spin the Real Jesus in the wrong way.
  • Be in daily relationship with Jesus (see John 14-17).
  • Soak yourself in Jesus' words in Matthew 5-7 (the incredible "Sermon on the Mount").
  • Hang around and fellowship with people who, above all, want Jesus and his kingdom.
  • Finally, never presume to have the final word on Jesus. History is filled with good people who put a spin on Jesus that we now see to be historically conditioned. Probably you and I are doing that to some extent, too.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Parents: Your Goal Is Not to Make Your Kids Happy

(The incredible) Gary Larson (where are you?)
Lori Gotlieb, in "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy," writes of the American obsession with and quest for "happiness," and the American parental goal of raising one's children to be very, very "happy."

She writes: "Nowadays, it’s not enough to be happy—if you can be even happier. The American Dream and the pursuit of happiness have morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way." Ironically, this way of thinking will end up making people very unhappy and in need of a lot of therapy to set them straight.

Gretchen Rubin, author of the best-selling The Happiness Project, says: "Happiness doesn't alway make you happy." I think she means to say something like: "To make 'happiness' one's life pursuit will not end up with you being 'happy.' Or perhaps: "If you mean by 'happiness' the removal of anything that would unsettle or disappoint or trouble you, then the achievement of that will leave you miserable and in need of help." 

Gotlieb says that social science backs her up on this. “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing,” Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, told me. “But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” It’s precisely this goal, though, that many modern parents focus on obsessively—only to see it backfire. Observing this phenomenon, my colleagues and I began to wonder: Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?"

The answer is: yes. 

Happiness sought for its own sake will leave you miserable. The only happiness worth happening is happiness as a byproduct. 

Parents, therefore, must allow unhappiness and misery in the lives of their  children. To shelter them from this is to destine them to an adulthood of psycho- and drug therapy. "Parental overinvestment is contributing to a burgeoning generational narcissism that’s hurting our kids."

Harvard child psychologist Dan Kindlon says, “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle."

Why might parents try to protect their children from all unhappy events and work hard so as to make them eternally happy? One answer is: because it's really about the parents' own happiness, and not their children's. Read the entire Gotlieb article to see the reasoning behind this.

Infants and small child narcissists are happy, because they are the center of the universe. But as they grow older this changes; indeed, it becomes a "big problem." So, parents, do not "protect" your child from negative feedback.

J. P. Moreland on "Happiness" as a Terrible Goal

Theistic philosopher J.P. Moreland has written about "happiness" as a poor goal to be sought after in The Lost Virtue of Happiness. J.P. presented chapter 1 of this text at our HSRM/Green Lake conference a few years ago. 

The bullets are:

  • American people are addicted to happiness, and they overemphasize its importance in life.
  • If, right now, you are not tremendously happy, that's OK.
  • Yet in America, if you are not happy, or your children are not happy, it seems like the world is falling apart.
  • Given the American emphasis on happiness, are Americans happy?
  • The answer, says Moreland (drawing on Martin Seligman's research), is that the rate of depression and loss of happiness has increased, in the span of just one generation in America, tenfold. We Americans are not a bunch of happy campers! We have an epidemic of depression and an epidemic of the loss of happiness.
  • Yet the Boomer generation is twice as rich, a lot healthier, more youthful, and a lot safer than our predecessors were 50 years ago. These are the kind of things that have defined the "American Dream." We are now living in this "Dream." We have more discretionary time. We have more money. It takes longer to age. So we feel younger, longer. J.P. says: "There's just one problem with this. All of this has not only not made Americans happier, we're slowly getting worse."
  • Why is this happening? Seligman's answer is this. "The Baby Boom generation forgot how to live for something bigger than they were." Americans have been taught to get up each morning and live for their own selves and try to find meaning in their own lives, rather than live for something other than their own well-being and bigger than they are.
  • From Moses to Solomon, to Plato and Aristotle, to Jesus and Augustine and Aquinas, to the Reformers al the way up to the 1900s, everybody meant the same thing by 'happiness.' But from the 1920s/30s on a new definition of 'happiness' was introduced and lived by. This new definition of 'happiness' is: "a feeling of pleasurable satisfaction." (See here, e.g.)
  • "Happiness' has become a positive feeling. Moreland is not against positive feelings; he'd rather experience them then their opposite. But there are two problems with this definition of happiness: 1) pleasurable feelings are not a big enough thing to build your life around; and 2) the more you try to get of it the less of it you have. "The best way to be happy is largely to forget about it."
  • Now watch this. 1) If 'happiness' is the feeling you have, say, when your team wins; and 2) the goal of life is to be happy, which means to retain that kind of feeling; then 3) your goal this year is make make sure that your job, your spouse, your church, your children, etc., help you that positive feeling named 'happiness.' All the aforenamed things (job, wife) are but a means to making you happy. If a man's 4-year-old wife doesn't make him "happy" he may trade her in for a 20-year-old woman that gives him that hap-hap-happy feeling.
  • The ancient definition of 'happiness,' used by Aristotle and contained in the wordeudamonia, is: to live a life of wisdom, character, and virtue." Plato thought it would be terrible if all a person did was spend his life worrying about whether he was good-looking, wealthy, and healthy. Solomon tells us that the happy person is the one who lives his life wisely reverencing and fearing God. In the New Testament the happy person is the person who lookslike Jesus of Nazareth and lives the way he lives.
  • How do you get that? See Matthew 16:24-26, where Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." Jesus is not here commanding us to do this. He is saying, if you want to get good at life, this is what you have to do.
  • If you want to get good at life, if you want to be "happy," then learn daily to give yourself away for the sake of God and others. J.P. says, "Give yourself away to other people for the Kingdom's sake."
  • If you do that, you end up finding yourself. That's the upside-down logic of Jesus. "Happiness makes a terrible goal. It is the byproduct of another goal, which is giving yourself away to others for the Kingdom's sake."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

(More On) Philosophical Zombies

I may present, tomorrow night in my Logic class, the argument against physicalism from the conceivability of philosophical zombies. This argument raises many important and interesting things regarding the epistemological problem of how the phenomenal is related to the physical. 

It is also significant to me because of the belief that, as Evan Fales states (p. 118), physicalism entails atheism. That is, if physicalism is true, then atheism is true. For Fales the opposite is not the case since he believes physicalism is "stronger" than atheism. One could be an atheist without being a physicalist, but not the other way around. If, therefore, physicalism is false, we then remove one reason that supports atheism. (If I was an atheist I'd be a physicalist, in spite of its internal incoherence.)

The zombie argument against physicalism, as stated by David Chalmers, is this:

1. If zombies are logically possible, then zombies are metaphysically possible.
2. If zombies are metaphysically possible, then physicalism is false.
3. Zombies are conceivable.
4. If zombies are conceivable, then zombies are logically possible.
5. Zombies are logically possible. (from 3 and 4, MP)
6. Zombies are metaphysically possible. (from 1 and 5, MP)
7. Physicalism is false. (from 2 and 6, MP)

P1 - Chalmers writes: “I confess that the logical possibility of zombies seems equally obvious to me (as that of a mile-high unicycle). A zombie is just something physically identical to me, but which has no conscious experience – all is dark inside.[…] I can discern no contradiction in the description. In some ways an assertion of this logical possibility comes down to a brute intuition, but no more so than with the unicycle.”

The existence of a mile-high unicycle is improbable but metaphysically possible.

P2 - This is because there could be no being that was physically identical to myself in every way yet lack something I have; viz., consciousness/qualia/the experience of what it is like to be myself. In other words, if physicalism is true one could not conceive of physicalism as true and at the same time conceive of a being physically identical to myself yet lacking something that I have; viz., consciousness.

P3 - We can conceive of zombies. Which means: we can think of a being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except that it lacks conscious experience, qualia, and sentience.

P4 - P5 - Zombies are, unlike square circles, logically possible.

P6 - Therefore zombies could exist, however unlikely this would be.

P7 - Combining P2 & P6 we get, applying modus ponens, the conclusion: "Physicalism is false."

For an excellent presentation of the zombie argument against physicalism see the essay in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Also check out David Chalmers's Zombies On the Web.

Patterns of Evidence: Does Archaeology Provide Evidence for the Biblical Exodus?

If I wasn't a pastor and could be something else I would be an archaeologist in Israel and Egypt. I've especially studied the archaeology of the biblical Exodus event. Finally, we have a dvd that puts this stuff together in a coherent and compelling presentation.

I'll show the award-winning documentary "Patterns of Evidence: Exodus,"  at Redeemer on Sunday night, Nov. 1, 6 PM.

It features many of the greatest Middle Eastern scholars and archaeologists.

For more than 50 years, the vast majority of the world’s most prominent archaeologists and historians have proclaimed that there is no hard evidence to support the Exodus story found in the Bible. In fact, they say that the archaeological record is completely opposed to the Bible’s account. This view of extreme skepticism has spread from academia to the world. The case against the Exodus appears to be so strong that even some religious leaders are labeling this ancient account as historical fiction.
Filmmaker Timothy Mahoney begins with the question, “Is the Bible just a myth, or did the archaeologists get it wrong?” He decides to tackle this issue with a deliberate scientific approach. After examining the details in the biblical text, he journeys across the globe to search for patterns of evidence firsthand. The result is the most in-depth archaeological investigation into the Exodus from Egypt ever captured on film.

The event is free - but I will take a love offering for anyone who wants to give to support Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries

Three Destructive Entitlement Attitudes

Maracas Bay overlook, Trinidad
Psychologist John Townsend, in his new book The Entitlement Cure, says there are three directions someone with an entitled attitude has, all of which destroy your health.

#1 - Denial.

Instead of "search me, O God, and know my heart," the person in denial turns her back on reality."She refuses to admit her flaws to herself or anyone else, which eliminates any possibility of deep and satisfying relationships." (p. 64)

Denial keeps her from growing, changing, and transforming.

The person in denial doesn't confess, because the problem is others, not her. (See James 5:16.)

#2 - Perfectionism.

The perfectionist "beats himself up for failures, minor or major. His standard for performance is perfection, and he offers himself little grace when he stumbles. He constantly scrutinizes and condemns himself, and never makes it to a point of self-acceptance." (p. 65)

#3 - Narcissism.

Narcissists have grandiose views of themselves. Self-grandiosity hides his flaws, "which usually lie buried under deep shame and envy. He is so afraid to see himself as he really is that he reacts in the opposite direction, toward the “I’m special” stance, in which he becomes arrogant and selfish and has difficulty feeling empathy for others." (p. 65)

The entitlement attitudes of denial, perfectionism, and narcissism are accompanied by pressure, stress, and emptiness. 

The Jesus way, on the other hand, is hard because you have to actually face yourself. Townsend writes:

"But his yoke becomes easier (see Matthew 11: 30) because you can then experience his grace, and the grace of others, to bear and relate to your real, authentic self — negative aspects and all. This self can then be loved, forgiven, graced, and helped to become a transformed individual, full of grace, forgiveness, and mercy for others." (Ib.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Philosophy Vegetables

Roz Chaz, New Yorker

Snow Flying in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

I was born in Michigan's beautiful and rugged Upper Peninsula. We have pasties, snow, lakes, waterfalls, moose, bear, lynx, eagles, fish... and snow flying!

I've seen this huge snow flying runway. Watch the video - it's crazy! 

It's in Ironwood, Michigan, on top of Copper Peak which sits 1,180 feet above Lake Superior. The Peak has become a year-round tourist attraction, offering a host of activities including mountain biking and the “Copper Peak Adventure Ride” which is a chair lift to the top of the hill that offers a breathtaking 360-degree view of Lake Superior and the north woods below.

After a long awaited hiatus, this enormous structure will again see regular jumps and competition and the Nordic world is eagerly awaiting the return of the sport.

Dynamics of Spiritual Discernment as Consolation and Desolation

One of my prayer and discernment meeting places with God (Sterling State Park, Lake Erie) - a 7 mile bike ride from home.

No one writes better on the subject of spiritual discernment than Ruth Haley Barton, except for perhaps Henri Nouwen

How do we grow in discernment?

"Cultivating the habit of discernment means we are always seeking the movement of God's Spirit so we can abandon ourselves to it. Sometimes abandoning ourselves to the will of God is like floating down a river: we relax and allow the current of the river to carry us along. At other times it is more like trying to run the rapids or ride a large wave: we must keep our body and mind attuned to the dynamic of the water so we can ride it to its destination rather than being toppled by its force. Either way, we do not set the direction or the speed of the current; rather, we seek the best way to let the current carry us in the direction God has for us." (Barton, "Discernment As a Way of Life")

One important part of discernment is "discernment of spirits" (1 Corinthians 12:10). 1 John 4:1 instructs us to "test the spirits to see if they are from God." Barton writes:

"The discernment of spirits helps us to distinguish the real from the phony, the true from the false, in the external world but also in the interior world of our own thoughts and motives. As we become more attuned to these subtle spiritual dynamics, we are able to distinguish between what is good (that which moves us toward God and his calling upon our lives) and what is evil (that which draws us away from God)."

Barton draws on Ignatius' idea that the dynamics of spiritual discernment involve "consolation" and "desolation." 

"Consolation is the interior movement of the heart that gives us a deep sense of life-giving connection with God, others, and our authentic self. We may experience it as a sense that all is right with the world, that we are free to be given over to God and love, even in moments of pain and crisis. Desolation is the loss of a sense of God's presence; indeed, we feel out of touch with God, with others and with our authentic self. It might be an experience of being off-center, full of turmoil, confusion, and maybe even rebellion. Or we might sense our energy draining away, tension in our gut or tears welling in our eyes."

This is so helpful to me. I have found that these senses regularly accompany my experience of times of discernment. 

"For instance, you might be going through something very difficult—perhaps the death of someone close, or quitting a job, or ending a relationship that is not good for you. There certainly is sadness or fear and concern about the future. But underneath these emotions, you might also identify a deep sense of wellbeing—"the peace that passes understanding" (Philippians 4:7), God's presence comforting or leading you. This is consolation."

For more read the entire article.

See also Barton's beautiful book Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups

Trinidad Spiritual Formation Conference - Thank You!

Maracas Bay, Trinidad

Linda and I are home from our trip to Port of Spain, Trinidad. Thirty pastors and leaders from around the island came to our conference on Spiritual Formation and Leading the Presence-Driven Church. 

Thank you to Elder Wayne Johnathan Anthony and your team of leaders who put this together. The conference site was great, the restaurant was excellent, and the steel pan player was brilliant.

Special thanks to all who came to these meetings. What a beautiful group of Jesus-followers you are!

And thank you Godfrey for hosting me to preach at Sunday morning's worship service.

We saw God do many great things, and are talking about returning in the future.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Overflowing Cup Is Influence

I'm sitting on the outdoor patio of Ciao! Restaurant. I just finished my shark sandwich and am reflecting on the day, which began with a beautiful worship service at an A.M.E. church in Trinidad, a home-cooked dinner of local food with savory sauces that Linda loved topped off with homemade peanut ice cream, and a winding drive through Trinidad's northern mountains down to palm-and-sand laden Maracas Bay.

Maracas Bay overlook
When I was praying under the hot Caribbean sun Friday morning I was meditating on Psalm 23. As I said You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, my cup overflows, the thought came to me: the overflowing cup is influence.

 The good things God is doing in my Soul Restoration Project spills over onto my enemies.

God is not simply filling my personal heart-cup to the brim and leaving it at that. The brim-filled Restoration is about overflow, in the presence of my enemies, splishing and splashing upon the spirits of my enemies.

What God does in me is used to influence others, including those who do not take so kindly to me.

Overflow influences whomever appears in the way of my life.
Linda, Maracas Bay, Trinidad

Trinidad - Day 3

Linda and I are in Port of Spain, Trinidad where I just finished a 2-day conference on Spiritual Formation and Leading the Presence-Driven Church. We had a wonderful time with many new friends who are leaders in the A.M.E. Church here. We've eaten great food (blue marlin, swordfish, and other local delicacies), seen God do great things, and were honored by one of Trinidad's excellent steel pan drummers (that brought tears to Linda's eyes).

This morning I'm preaching at an A.M.E. church in Port of Spain on "Blessings and Curses." Then we're being hosted by a pastor and his family and authentic Caribbean cuisine. In the afternoon  we'll drive to the beautiful north ocean beaches on the island and eat a Trinidadian specialty - bacon-wrapped shark.

Be back in Monroe Monday night with many stories to tell, plus a vision God gave me that involves Trinidad and empowering its Christian leaders who are hungry and ready for more equipping.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Flying to Trinidad Today

Today Linda and I fly to Port of Spain, Trinidad. 

On Friday and Saturday I'll be speaking and teaching on Spiritual Formation and Leading the Presence-Driven Church to pastors and leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Port of Spain. We look forward to making some new friends and seeing God do great things!

On Sunday morning I'll preach in an A.M.E. church on "Blessings and Curses."

The conference schedule:

Spiritual Formation and Transformation: How God Changes Lives

John Piippo, PhD

* Leading the Presence-Driven Church

* Servant Leadership: How God Molds His Leaders Into Servants


9:00 am Session 1 - Introduction and approach.

Participants out to pray

Small group sharing

Large group sharing 

12 noon Lunch

1:30 pm Session 11 - Theology of Spiritual Formation

5:00 pm Session 111 - Leading the Presence-Driven Church


9:00 am Participants out to pray

12 noon Lunch

1:30 pm Servant Leadership.

"Humility As the Foundation for Christian Leadership."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Solitude and the Breaking of Adulation Addiction

Plaque, in a store in Cleveland

Mike Bickle, in Growing In the Prophetic, writes of a time when he was traveling with John Wimber, speaking regularly before crowds of thousands of people. Mike found that "I enjoyed the attention and honor more than I realized." (143)  

He says, "We didn't have enough spiritual maturity to discern some basic warning signals about pride." (144) This is a dangerous spiritual condition to be in! ("O come, let us adore me.")
We all need affirmation. We don't need to be worshiped. We do need to be and feel appreciated. We don't need adoration and adulation. 

There is a fine line between affirmation and adulation. The healthy glow of affirming words can morph into self-worship addiction. When we become attached to the affirmation we then live for it, rather than live selflessly for God and others. 

Affirmation-as-adulation can become like a drug, and off we go fishing for the next fix. One way fish for praise is to perform before others. When the presence of God ends the performance before others begins. At this point all of life's a stage, and we await the reviews.

Solitude with God can break us of this. By "solitude" I include "Internet solitude," meaning not getting alone with your laptop, but retreating from it. Go apart from all persons and media and laptops and texting and tweeting through which praise or blame comes so that God can love you even when you are not performing. It is in that quiet place with God that I hear His "well done," and "John, I love you." 

When I am discovered by God and find my life's worth in being His beloved child, I am released to love and serve others apart from any performance review.

Monday, October 19, 2015

What Spiritual Transformation Is For

Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin

Linda and I are flying to Port of Spain, Trinidad this Thursday. I will lead a conference for A.M.E. pastors and leaders on Friday and Saturday, and preach in an A.M.E. church on Sunday morning. 

I'll speak on spiritual transformation, prayer, and leading the presence-driven church. The real deal when it comes to spiritual transformation is about more than personal well-being. As Henri Nouwen has said, the Spirit-produced change happening in me is also for others. And, following Psalm 23, the transformation is "for His name's sake."

Ruth Haley Barton state this well. She writes:

"As we are changed into more loving, surrendered Christ-followers, we become the presence of Christ in the world that God loves and sent his only Son to save. We are able to join others on whatever hard road they are traveling and discern loving, God-guided response to their need. We learn that, indeed, all true Christian spiritual formation is

  • for the glory of God, 
  • for the abundance of our own lives 
  • and for the sake of others, 
or it is not Christian formation." 
- Barton, Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, Kindle Locations 173-176

Kafka's Metamorphosis Redux

New Yorker, Thursday, October 15
See Die Verwandlung

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Entitlement People Find Eternal Separation From God Reprehensible

Wild daisy, Green Lake, Wisconsin
This morning at Redeemer I preached out of Revelation 14:6-13 - on judgment and eternal separation from God. I shared that one reason people (even some Christians) find these verses difficult and unfair on behalf of God is entitlement.

John Townsend, in his excellent new book The Entitlement Cure, defines "entitlement" as:  

"The belief that I am exempt from responsibility and I am owed special treatment. Entitlement is: The man who thinks he is above all the rules. The woman who feels mistreated and needs others to make it up to her.”  (p. 19).

The characteristics of entitlement are:

1.   An attitude of being special.

2.   An attitude of being owed, of deserving something.

3.   A refusal to accept responsibility.

4.   A denial of one’s impact on others.

The less entitlement in a person, the more a cry for God’s mercy and grace.

          The less entitlement, the more compassion.

The more entitlement, the more the attitude of "I’m right and others are wrong; that I’m good and others are bad"; of "I’m deserving, others are undeserving.

The less entitlement, the more like the tax collector in Luke 18:11 who cried out “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

The less entitlement, the more one understands sin, its reality, and its consequences.

Townsend writes: “Whatever the cause of the sense of entitlement, the end result is that the person believes that he or she doesn’t have to play by the rules of responsibility, ownership, and commitment.” (21)

A person with "global entitlement" will find reprehensible any idea of a God who would allow people to suffer consequences of eternal separation from Him. 

The truth is that sin separates. Always. Sin separates us from other people, divides our inner self, and creates a relational breach between us and God. Such are the inexorable consequences of sin (or whatever word you want to use). The globally entitled person cannot see this. 

Is sin a real human condition? I like what G.K. Chesterton says here: Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology that can really be proved.


Where Work Finds Its Ultimate Meaning


Yale University theologian Miroslav Volf, in A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, writes about "work." About what we "do for a living." If our work is only defined as what we do "for a living," then our lives are impoverished and, ultimately, meaningless. 

Why work at all?

One reason is: for the "flourishing of communities." Volf writes: When we work for the well-being of communities, our work acquires a richer texture of meaning than when we work just for ourselves. We are then not only self-seeking; we are living for the benefit of others. And as we read in Scripture, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)." (Kindle Locations 6510652)

This is good, but even this is not enough to give our work and lives their proper meaning. 

Volf states:

"If our own well-being and the well-being of community are all there is to working, would not our working in some sense be like building sandcastles on the seashore? It is meaningful as long as the activity and its results last, but it’s ultimately futile. A tide comes and washes away all the hard work, leaving no trace of it. If there were no more to our work than the benefit to ourselves and our communities, rapacious time would swallow us and the fruits of our labor, and our work would remain ultimately meaningless. Our work can find its ultimate meaning when, in working for ourselves and for community, we work for God." (Kindle Locations 654-659)

What is the relationship of God to our work? Volf makes four points.
  1. "God is, in a sense, our employer." Jesus-followers work for God. We serve God, ultimately.
  2. "We... think of our work as not just fulfilling God’s commands but achieving God’s purposes in the world." (Kindle Locations 664-665)
  3. "In our work we cooperate with God, and that gives meaning to our work." (Kindle Locations 670-671)
  4. "Finally, God makes sure that none of what is true, good, and beautiful in our work will be lost." (Kindle Locations 678-679; here Volf sounds Kantian.)
Volf concludes: "The work of each one of us is, then, a small contribution to the grand tapestry of life, which God is weaving as God created the world, is redeeming the world, and will consummate the world. This is the ultimate meaning of our work." (Kindle Locations 685-687)

(Without God, welcome to Camus's myth of Sysyphus, or Bertrand Russell's "foundation of unyielding despair.")

Saturday, October 17, 2015

If Jesus If the Only Way to God, What About Those Who Have Never Heard of Him?

Monroe - Point Mouilee

Imagine this story. John does not believe in Jesus. But Jason does. Jason tells John about Jesus, and John is interested. 

Jason feels God wants him to get back to John soon, but does not find time to get back to John. John dies without hearing more. What was John’s status before John died? To be saved, did he need more information about Jesus? 

Paul Copan asks: “Was his eternal destiny in the hands of [someone] who happened not to respond to an inner prompting? Could it be that God is more interested in a person’s spiritual direction or responsiveness than in his spiritual ‘location’ on a continuum?”

Theistic philosopher does an excellent job of presenting the issues and suggesting answers to the question: what if someone has never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus? The points below are from Copan’s book True for You, But Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith. Read the book for much more detail and explanation, especially regarding Copan’s “middle knowledge” position.

Here are the relevant points. 

1. God’s desire is that all be saved.

2. All who desire to be saved will have the opportunity to be saved.

3. We can trust that God is loving and just. We can trust that the eternal outcome of every person is in the hands of a loving and just God.

4. Persons who have self-inflicted “transworld depravity” will not want God, or God in Christ. So God is not unjust in applying eternal justice to them; viz., everlasting separation from his presence. (1 Thessalonians 1)

5. God has given persons free will. This is risky. Some will likely freely choose to reject God’s offer of salvation, and his revelation in creation and the moral law within (Romans 1 and 2). As C.S. Lewis wrote, re. this, there are two kinds of persons: one who says to God “Thy will be done,” and one to whom God says “Thy will be done.”

6. If God has middle-knowledge (knowledge of future choices) and knows that John will reject Him in any possible world, then God is not unjust in not presenting John with the opportunity to be saved.

7. Romans 1 says that, even without a knowledge of Christ, people have an opportunity to know God. We read: 18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Theologically, this is called "natural revelation."

8. Romans 2 says: (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. So it seems likely that some persons will be saved by following the moral law within.

1. The Agnostic View.

a. Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer are agnostic on the matter.

b. If God really loves the whole world, and if Christ died for all without exception, and if God commands all to repent, and if God does not want any to perish, “then it follows that his initiating grace, though resistible (Acts 7:51), is directed toward all without exception. This would include the unevangelized.” (Copan)

c. We can trust that God has the question of the unevangelized figured out.

d. Further, God has done so much to reach us all, even to suffer with us in a world filled with evil and misery, that we have good reason to believe the unevangelized are in excellent hands.

e. We can trust that God is loving and just. So God won’t condemn anyone for being born at the wrong time and place (viz., in a time and place where the message of the Gospel of Jesus was not known).

f. God is able to reach people in ways we don’t expect. For example, he can reveal himself – and has done so – through visions or angelic messengers. Copan cites examples of Jesus appearing to Muslims who had never heard of him.

g. In the end we can trust in a good God to do no wrong. “We should not think about the unevangelized apart from God’s character, motives, and good purposes.” (Copan)

2. The Inclusivist (Wider-Hope) View

a. In Romans 2:7 Paul writes: “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, [God] will give eternal life.”

b. Could some unevangelized people fit in this category?

c. Inclusivists say: Salvation is exclusive in its source – Christ alone as God’s full, final revelation. Salvation is available to every person – even those the missionary can’t reach.

d. One criticism of this view is that accepting it would diminish missionary zeal. Why bring Christ to the nations if the nations can be saved without hearing of Christ?

e. The inclusivist responds by asking why anyone’s fate should solely depend on evangelists who are not always available and/or faithful?

f. Belief in the sovereignty of God makes us think God will not really leave the destiny of unreached people in the hands of imperfect, fallible missionaries. Can’t God work beyond the boundaries of the gospel’s proclamation and our expectations?

g. What about those in the Old Testament who didn’t know about the historical Jesus and his death and resurrection? “Clearly they were saved on the basis of what Jesus would eventually accomplish (Rom. 3:25; see Acts 17:30).

h. And what about infants and those who are mentally incapable of grasping the gospel message?

i. The inclusivist believes that human beings are guilty and helpless before God, separated from him, and cannot be saved apart from Christ.

j. The inclusivist believes that God wants all to be saved. This seems to imply that he makes salvation available to all.

k. The inclusivist claims that salvation through Jesus’ “name” doesn’t necessarily imply knowing the historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth. While Jesus is ontologically necessary for salvation, he is not epistemologically necessary.

l. Natural revelation may have a positive role and may be used by God’s Spirit to show the unevangelized their need for him. For example, Romans 1:20 and Romans 2:14-15 give us two ways persons can be saved without hearing of the Jesus story. Here inclusivists are optimistic about the role of “general revelation” through the creation, and the moral law within each human heart. Millard Erickson, who is not an inclusivist, says: “If they [persons who know about God through his self-revelation in nature (cf. Romans 1:20) but still reject God] are condemnable because they have not trusted God through what they have, it must have been possible somehow to meet this requirement through this means.If not, responsibility and condemnation are meaningless… Perhaps there is room for acknowledging that God alone may know in every case exactly whose faith is sufficient for salvation.” (In Copan)

m. The Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10) seems to be an example of someone who seems to display the working of God’s Spirit and grace in is life.

n. John Stott summarizes the inclusivist argument: “What we do not know, however, is exactly how much knowledge and understanding of the Gospel people need before they can cry to God for mercy and be saved. In the Old Testament, people were certainly “justified by grace through faith,” even though they had little knowledge or no expectation of Christ. Perhaps there are others today in a somewhat similar position. They know they are sinful and guilty before God, and that they cannot do anything to win his favor, so in self-despair they call upon the God they dimly perceive to save them. If God does save such, as many evangelical Christians tentatively believe, their salvation is still only by grace, only by Christ, only by faith.” (In Copan)

3. Copan presents an argument against the inclusivist position.

a. Inclusivism can blur important distinctions, which can result in disastrous affirmations. For example, some inclusivists hold that Muslims whoa re seeking Allah can be saved.

b. Romans 1 seems to argue against the inclusivist position. Paul has a pessimistic view of humanity’s ability to turn to God because of God’s revelation in nature.

c. There are people who don’t respond to general revelation yet respond to the preaching of the gospel.

d. Inclusivism dampens concern for missions. “It seems doubtful that inclusivism would actually increase evangelistic fervor.”

4. The Accessibilist/Middle Knowledge View

a. God judges the unevangelized based on their response to natural revelation, which his Spirit can use to bring them to salvation. “Natural revelation doesn’t damn anyone without furnishing genuine opportunities to be saved (Romans 2:7) God’s initiative offers them prevenient (“preceding”) grace to respond. All they need to do is humble themselves before him and repent. God is not only just in his judgment, but also gracious in genuinely offering salvation.” (Copan)

b. God can’t make people freely choose to respond to the gospel. “Some might be like NYU philosopher Thomas Nagel, who said, ‘I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.’ Indeed, with every new indication of God’s reality, a person might come to resent or hate him even more.”

c. God knows all future possibilities and free choices of human beings, and whoever would want to be saved will find salvation. God knows all truths – even future ones. God knows all possible future events and human choices – what free creatures could do in various circumstance and what world-arrangements are feasible.” For example, Jesus knew (from the Father) that Peter would deny him three times. God knew that Peter would freely choose to deny Christ under certain circumstances.

d. God takes human free will seriously. Copan says: “No one will be comdemned as the result of geographical or historical accident, lack of information, or failure of a missionary to “get there.” All who want – or would want – to be saved do find salvation. Those who would always refuse salvation get their way in the end.”

e. Perhaps there’s no feasible world of persons who all freely choose Christ; this God creates a world containing an optimal balance of fewest lost and greatest number saved. Sometimes people ask: “Why didn’t God create world in which everyone freely chose to love him?” But if humans are truly free, then there’s guarantee they will use their free will to love him. Remember that God does not create out of any need. God desires that none perish; he wants us to embrace him and live. Copan writes: “So it’s reasonable to believe that he wants a maximal number of persons saved and a minimal number condemned. He wants his renewed creation – the new heaven and earth – to be as full as possible and hell as empty as possible. The only thing preventing hell’s being completely empty of people is the human will’s resistance to his loving and gracious initiative. God isn’t less loving because some people are condemned for rejecting him. So why couldn’t this world be the one that achieves this optimal balance?”

f. Some persons possess self-inflicted “transworld depravity” or “transworld damnation”; they would have been lost in any world I which they were placed.

g. Missions motivation isn’t diminished, since God has also providentially arranged fort human messengers to bring the gospel to those he knew would accept it if they heard it.

h. Some individuals may seem “so close” to salvation in the actual world without finding it. But perhaps this actual world is the very nearest the transworldly depraved ever come to salvation.