Thursday, April 30, 2015

Praying to a Non-physical God (PrayerLife)

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

Physicalism is the belief that all facts are physical facts. Most intellectual atheists are physicalists. 

Physicalism has its problems. It is unable to account for consciousness and free will. On physicalism, free will does not exist, which I find absurd. (See, e.g., J.P. Moreland's critique of physicalism here, and here.) 

Not all atheists are physicalists. See, for example, NYU philosopher Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Nagel's point regarding consciousness is that a physicalist (materialist) view of the natural world does not only not account for consciousness, but positively excludes consciousness. Nagel sums his book up by saying that the physical sciences, as wonderful as they are, cannot - even in principle - "provide the basis for an explanation of the mental aspects of reality as well — that physics can aspire finally to be a theory of everything."

I believe (and reason) that non-physical realities (like consciousness and free will) exist. Among them include God. God is an immaterial, therefore non-physical, Being. This has implications, and affects how I pray.

I am made in God's image. There are things about me that are God-like. John Calvin, at the beginning of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, wrote:

"No man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts 
towards the God in whom he lives and moves; 
because it is perfectly obvious, 
that the endowments which we possess 
cannot possibly be from ourselves."

(Quoted in J.P. Moreland, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism, 4)

I have a soul, a mind, consciousness, and free will. I am not a purely physical thing. In this sense I am like God. This is the point of contact between me and God. Just as God transcends physical reality, so do I. When I pray, I do so as an image-bearer. This is where I stand in relation to God. Moreland writes: "An entity can stand in certain relations and not others depending on the sort of thing it is." (Ib.)

I, and you, and all human beings, are a certain sort of thing that is inherently non-physical. "I" cannot be reduced to mere matter. When I pray, my non-physical spirit interacts with Non-physical God. God is not limited by physical constraints, therefore neither am I (think of Paul, praying while in prison chains). 

God is present to me now as I pray. 

See also:

Praying to an Everlasting God (Prayer Summer 2014)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Self-Forgiveness Often Includes Making Amends with Others

Spring flowers in Rockford, Illinois
Are you having a hard time forgiving yourself for things you have done to others, to your own self, and to God? If so, the book to read on this is Everett Worthington's Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free From the Past

Worthington emphasizes the connection between self-forgiveness and seeking the forgiveness of others we have wronged. He cites studies that show "that people could forgive themselves more quickly and thoroughly if they felt forgiven both by God and by the person they wronged." (85) This is because when we hurt another person we damage our own character. In wounding others we also wound ourselves. When we choose to restore relationship with the one we have harmed this "restorative moral action will narrow our own injustice gap and help restore our sense of self as a moral person." (Ib.)

How can we narrow the injustice gap our actions have created? For one thing, "to regain trust from someone you harmed, you need to show the person that you are taking full responsibility." (86) If I hurt you then I am responsible, with your permission, to acknowledge your woundedness and the healing process. For example, the adulterous wife or husband must talk about their evil tryst, intentionally and proactively, so that their spouse does not have to keep asking all the many questions that are now in their mind. Worthington writes: "add substance to your commitment to take responsibility by acting to narrow the injustice gap." (Ib.) 

Persona in Absentia (PrayerLife)


As much as I desire to meet alone with God and pray, God desires to meet with me like a loving parent longs to connect with their children. Henri Nouwen writes: 

"God wants us more than we want God."
- Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 30

Who wants to be heard the most - us or God? The answer is: God.

Who grieves more over our lack of praying - us or God? Answer: God.

Nouwen quotes Anthony Bloom:

"We complain that God does not make Himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three-and-a-half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer ‘I am busy, I am sorry.’ Or when we do not answer at all because we do not hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our mind, of our conscience. So there is a situation in which we have no right to complain of the absence of God, because we are a great deal more absent than He ever is.” (In Ib.)

Whenever there is an "in absentia" situation, it is us, and not God. God is never absent.

I am going to take time today and go to a quiet place, just me and God. We will meet together. God's gladness will far surpass mine. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Emphasize Things Deserving of Attention

Yellow Springs, Ohio
Finally, brothers and sisters, 
whatever is true, 
whatever is noble, 
whatever is right, 
whatever is pure, 
whatever is lovely, 
whatever is admirable
—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy
—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

A good teacher will instruct their students on what they need to understand so as to improve. As a guitar teacher I taught students how to play better. Too much emphasis on what can go wrong can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Henri Nouwen writes:

"What is finally important is not that we overcome death but that we celebrate life. I have found that total concentration on fighting the forces of destruction is dangerous and can be very damaging." (Nouwen, The Road to Peace, 40)

This is not the old "power of positive thinking" thing, or some shallow "Eckhart Tolle" (not his real name) myth. It is, however, to acknowledge that what we think about matters to our spiritual well-being. Make your focus on what is right, not on what is wrong. Acknowledge wrong, but major on right. 

Nouwen continues:

"When I allow my mind and heart to experience what a nuclear holocaust can do to our planet, it often seems that a deep darkness starts to surround me and pull me into a pit of depression and despair. When I try to confront the powers of death that already have a hold on me, I often feel so powerless that I lose contact with the very source of my own life. How easy it is to become a victim of the very forces I am fighting against! When all my attention goes to protesting death, death itself may end up receiving ore attention than it deserves. Thus my struggle against the dark forces of death becomes the arena of my own seduction." (Ib.)

Instead of paying attention to the prince of darkness, focus on the Lord of light.

See beauty, not ashes.

Emphasize excellence, not failure.

Rejoice in truth, not falsehood.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Belief In God Stains Everything

Detroit Institute of Art

One of the best books I've read in the past two years is by agnostic writer Julian Barnes - Nothing To Be Frightened Of. Barnes is an excellent, beautiful writer. This was a book I could not put down, and which elicited much feeling in me.

Even though Barnes does not believe in God he finds himself longing for God. He is blunt about certain liberal Christian ideas of God (e.g., deistic thinking). Barnes understands that if God exists, this reality will shape all of life. He writes:

“There seems little point in a religion which is merely a weekly social event (apart, of course, from the normal pleasures of a weekly social event), as opposed to one which tells you exactly how to live, which colors and stains everything.” (64). Barnes asks: “What’s the point of faith unless you and it are serious — seriously serious — unless your religion fills, directs, stains and sustains your life?” (81)

The only religion worth embracing is one which stains everything.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dr. Seuss's Cartesian, Sartrean Birthday Philosophy

One of my favorite birthday books is Dr. Seuss’s epic Happy Birthday to You. This is a deep philosophical text, so I hope I don’t lose anyone in my analysis. (And listen to this as you read - the entire thing!)

Happy Birthday to You (hereafter HBtY) is the story of the Birthday Bird (hereafter BB) from the land of Katroo (hereafter Katroo), who arrives one night at the bedside of a boy on the eve of the boy’s birthday. The BB sweeps the kid up and takes him to Katroo for the hugest sugar-carb-filled birthday ever seen.

Seuss writes, on the BB:

“Katroo is the only place Birthday Birds grow.

This bird has a brain. He's the most beautifully brained

With the brainiest bird-brain that's ever been trained.

He was trained by the most splendid Club in this nation,

The Katroo Happy Birthday Asso-see-eye-ation.”

Even though Seuss does some loopy question-begging here, we see that the BB is smart. How smart? The BB has the “brainiest bird-brain that’s ever been trained.” 

The word “brainiest” is a superlative, indicating incomparability. The BB has (thinking on Anselmian lines) “a brain a greater than which cannot be conceived.” But, you say, it’s still only a bird-brain. Correct. But if it is the “brainiest” bird brain, indicating a brain a greater than which cannot be conceived, then the BB has omniscience. The BB seems to be, like God, an omniscient being.

The BB’s brain is “beautiful.” Like Nobel Laureate John Nash, the BB has “a beautiful mind.” Here one does not mean the brain’s physicality but its sheer cognitive mental powers. But if the BB’s brain was “trained,” does that not imply that the brain-trainers of the Katroo Happy Birthday Asso-see-eye-ation have brainier brains than the brainiest brain of the BB? Logically, that is impossible. So here Seuss is logically incoherent. "Dr." Seuss made his living on logical incoherencies. But that fact should not cause one to dismiss what comes next, for to do so would be to miss some of the best philosophizing in all of Western culture.

“He [the BB] knows your address, and he heads for your bed.

You hear a soft swoosh in the brightening sky.

You are not all awake. But you open one eye.

Then over the housetops and trees of Katroo,

You see that bird coming! To you. Just to you!

That Bird pops right in! You are up on your feet!”

This is troublesome. A total stranger who:

1) Knows your address? How did the BB know your address? Because an omniscient being knows all things that can possibly be known, which would include your address.

2) The BB “pops right in.”

3) The BB “heads for your bed.”

This is disconcerting. The boy does not know the BB. He does not know the BB is omniscient. Even if he did know that the BB is omniscient, this does not imply that the BB is omnibenevolent. As far as the boy, and we as well, know, the BB may be malevolent. So here we have a scene where an omniscient and possibly malevolent Bird pops into your room and heads for your bed. This is not necessarily good. Here I think we can excuse Seuss, who is writing before our troubled times when neighborhoods were Rockwellian and windows and doors were left unlocked.

The BB says to the boy, “Get dressed!” He sweeps the boy away and on to Katroo! Does “Katroo really exist? No, in the same way “Oz” does not really exist. As they fly out we read:

Five minutes later, you're having a snack

On you way out of town on a Smorgasbord's back.

"Today," laughs the Bird, "eat whatever you want.

Today no one tells you you cawnt or you shawnt.

And, today, you don't have to be tidy or neat.

If you wish, you may eat with both hands and both feet.

So get in there and munch. Have a big munch-er-oo!

Today is your birthday! Today you are you!

My concerns and thoughts include:

• The use of ‘cawnt’ and ‘shawnt’ are typical Seuss-isms as he desperately tries to keep the rhyme going.

• The assumption is: on your birthday, no one has the right to tell you what you can or cannot do.

• All food groups and food non-groups are fair game on your birthday.

• Forget all sanitary rules.

• Even eat with hands and both feet. (The thought of eating with both feet disturbs me. Especially since, at my age, I can barely touch my feet.)

• On your birthday you can eat like a pig with its snout everlastingly nuzzling in the trough of all calories.

OK – not good stuff. This is anti-parental antinomianism. But here’s where Seuss engages in some big-time philosophizing. He writes: 

“Today is your birthday. Today you are you!”

You are you. ‘A’ is ‘A.’ This is the logic of identity. It’s tautological thinking, redundant stuff, Kantian analytic predicating. Leibnizian "identity of indiscernibles." When the subject is the self and the predicate is also the self we have a powerful, existential statement of personal identity. We are now heading in two converging directions; viz., Cartesianism and Kierkegaard’s idea of truth as subjectivity. Let us proceed.

“If we didn't have birthdays, you wouldn't be you.

If you'd never been born, well then what would you do?

If you'd never been born, well then what would you be?

You might be a fish! Or a toad in a tree!

You might be a doorknob! Or three baked potatoes!

You might be a bag full of hard green tomatoes.

Or worse than all that… Why, you might be a WASN'T!

A Wasn't has no fun at all. No, he doesn't.

A Wasn't just isn't. He just isn't present.

But you… You ARE YOU! And, now isn't that pleasant!”

Seuss sets before us a philosophical smorgasbord. There are so many choices here that one wonders where to begin!

1. “If you’d never been born, then what would you do?” The answer to that is, ‘you’ wouldn’t ‘do’ anything since ‘you’ would not be. "You" would not even be a "nonexistent thing," as if nonexistence could be predicated of nothing.

2. You might be “a toad in a tree.” But this cannot be true, since if ‘you’ had never been born then ‘you’ would not have been born as a toad in a tree. Had you been born as a toad in a tree you would not know it. We have toads croaking in our backyard as I write. Perhaps some of them are in trees. But I am certain not one of them is now thinking, “Wow – I was born as a toad in a tree!”

3. You could never have been born as a doorknob. No current physical theory allows for that kind of thing to happen. Doorknobs cannot procreate.

4. But… you might be a “Wasn’t.” That is, if you had never been born, even as a toad in a tree (but not as a doorknob) you would not exist at all and would be, ipso facto, a ‘Wasn’t.’ 

Pause here for a moment, as I make some comparisons between Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and Seussian philosophy.

In the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy essay on “Sartre’s Existentialism” we read:

“Sartre’s ontology is explained in his philosophical masterpiece, Being and Nothingness, where he defines two types of reality which lie beyond our conscious experience: the being of the object of consciousness and that of consciousness itself. The object of consciousness exists as “in-itself,” that is, in an independent and non-relational way. However, consciousness is always consciousness “of something,” so it is defined in relation to something else, and it is not possible to grasp it within a conscious experience: it exists as “for-itself.” An essential feature of consciousness is its negative power, by which we can experience “nothingness.” This power is also at work within the self, where it creates an intrinsic lack of self-identity. So the unity of the self is understood as a task for the for-itself rather than as a given.”

The connections between Sartre and Seuss should be obvious. But just in case they are not:

1. Seuss’s “You are you” (or later, his “I am I”) is “independent and non-relational.” Here the Seussian self is not defined in relation to something else. It exists “for itself.” This is precisely the kind of birthday Seuss is advocating; viz., a birthday that is only about the self and for the self.

2. A ‘Wasn’t’ has an “intrinsic lack of self-identity.” That is, a ‘Wasn’t’ essentially, or ontologically, lack self-identity.

The philosophical excitement builds as Seuss writes:

“Shout loud at the top of your voice, "I AM I!


I am I!

And I may not know why

But I know that I like it.

Three cheers! I AM I!"”

Sartre’s definition of existentialism is: existence precedes essence. One first of all, primordially, exists. “I am .” Or: ‘A’ is ‘A.’ The predicate is self-identical with the subject. One’s existence is, drawing from Kant, “analytic” rather than “synthetic.”

Seuss continues:

“Sing loud, "I am lucky!" Sing loud, "I am I!"

If you'd never been born, then you might be an ISN'T!

An Isn't has no fun at all. No he disn't.

He never has birthdays, and that isn't pleasant.

You have to be born, or you don't get a present.”

Here a celebration breaks forth as the Cartesian certainty is clarified. I exist! Seuss’s Cartesian certainty is as follows:

1. I have a birthday.

2. Therefore I am.

Because you have to exist to have a birthday. Neither Seuss nor Descartes nor Sartre are making an evidentialist argument for personal existence. One’s own existence is simply a given, a datum, much like a Plantingian “properly basic belief.” (Note: you have to exist in order to utter the proposition "I have a birthday." Non-existent in the sense of once-existent persons cannot make such a claim, since claim-making requires actual existence.)

Which brings us to my favoritest line in the entire book:

 “You have to be born, or you don’t get a present.” 

Taking this line, and using a reductio, I reason:

1. I got presents today.

2. Therefore I was born.

3. Therefore I exist. (From 1 & 2)

The rest of Seuss’s book is a giant celebration of ego-centered, non-relational personal gluttonous existence. At the book’s end I am exhausted and touched, as Seuss writes:

“I am what I am! That's a great thing to be!

If I say so myself, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!"

Now, by Horseback and bird-back and Hiffer-back, too,

Come your friends! All your friends! From all over Katroo!

And the Birthday Pal-alace heats up with hot friends

And your party goes on!

On and on

Till it ends.

When it ends,

You're much happier,

Richer and fatter.

And the Bird flies you home

On a very soft platter.

So that's

What the Birthday Bird

Does in Katroo.

And I wish

I could do

All these great things for you!”

And why would I write about these things today? Because it’s my birthday, and I have nothing else to say.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Redeemer Coming Events


Morning worship service - I'll preach out of Revelation 2:12-17  - on loyalty to Jesus in the midst of persecution, on "no compromising," on the "hidden manna" and the meaning of the "white stone."

Relationships class - 6 PM - "What to Do When Friends Fail."


Morning worship service - I'll preach out of Rev. 2:18-28 (the "Jezebel spirit"); + we'll celebrate the Lord's Table.

After the service we'll:

1. Break ground for our new building extension. Bring spades or shovels and we'll do this together, simultaneously. Kids too!
2. Have our spring church picnic, followed by
3. Our Annual Softball Game.

Spiritual Formation Is Not About Strengthening Will Power

Bolles Harbor, Monroe

Dallas Willard writes:

"It is not the growth of “will power” we are looking for in spiritual formation, but transformation of all dimensions of the self under the direction of God, through a will surrendered to Him and applied appropriately to bring about personal change." (Dallas Willard, Getting Love Right, Kindle Locations 222-226)

We are not to work harder or try harder to self-transform into Christlikeness. To think that trying harder will achieve, e.g., the kind of love Jesus had is to devalue Christ and diminish expectations. "Will power" (Richard Foster calls it "will worship") won't work.

But as we surrender to Him He transforms us. He produces spiritual "fruit" in us, which are qualities of His own being. As we abide in Christ He gives us precisely what we cannot achieve in our own strength; viz., the ongoing meta-morphing of our heart into a heart like His.

(Click on the link and get Willard's beautiful little book for $1.)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Prayer as Allowing God Access To the Deep Self (PrayerLife)

Linda and I in Brasilia, Brazil
I read Henri Nouwen because he was connected to God. He prayed, actually. Nouwen is a very good theoretician, but theory without experience means nothing. Nouwen didn't theorize about prayer, he actually prayed. 

This is good because experience, not theory, breeds conviction. Nouwen is the kind of person I need to hear from; viz., someone who does original research in the life of prayer. Someone who knows God, allows God access to the depths of their being, and can guide me to that beautiful place.

Out of his deep prayer life Nouwen theorizes. First pray; second theorize about the prayer life. Nouwen reflects biblically, theologically, and psychologically on his experience with God, especially in times of praying. Because he actually prays his theories on praying are worth listening to.

Nouwen saw prayer as a whole-being experience. He writes:

 "Prayer is the bridge between my unconscious and conscious life. Prayer connects my mind with my heart, my will with my passions, my brain with my belly. Prayer is the way to let the life-giving Spirit of God penetrate all the corners of my being. Prayer is the divine instrument of my wholeness, unity, and inner peace." 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Let Your Words Come Out of Your Silence

Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable.
But he who restrains his lips is wise.
Proverbs 10:19

Ralph Cramden of "The Honeymooners" had an unfiltered mouth. He could not keep the irritation in his mind from cascading like a waterfall out of his troubled self. He would open wide and say words he would often later regret. Afterwards Ralph would open his mouth again and confess "Me and my biiiiiig mouth!"

I've done the same, hopefully not as much as Ralph. One time I opened my mouth in a sermon and said a sentence that I wish I could take back. The next Sunday morning I asked my church family to forgive me for that. I've also done this with people I love, and confessed it with sadness.

After quoting Proverbs 10:19 Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"This is a truth that could drive leaders to despair, given the incessant flow of words from our mouths, pens and computers. Those of us who deal in words are at great risk of misusing words and even sinning with our words due to the sheer volume of them. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can literally feel—deep in my bones—that if I do not shut my mouth for a while I will get myself in trouble, because my words will be completely disconnected from the reality of God in my life." (Barton, Ruth Haley. Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 124)

In silence before God I shut my mouth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that "right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech." (Quoted in Ib.) "Silence," writes Barton, "is the only cure for this desperate situation."

In my silent times before God he heals my troubled soul. He takes the edge off me. He calms the turbulent waters. He strips away dis-ease and restores my sanity. He grows self-control in me and empowers me to shut my mouth. The psalmist writes:

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds,
and be silent.
Psalm 4:4
When it comes to fixing people there is a time to be quiet and put your trust in the Lord. (Ps. 4:5)

"There are times when the most heroic thing a leader can do is to remain in that private place with God for as long as it takes to keep from sinning. In silence we consciously trust ourselves to God rather than following our human impulses to fix, control or put people in their place." (Ib., p. 125)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Liberal Morality Is Not Rooted in Atheism or Science, but in Jewish and Christian Theism

One of my favorite atheists is John Gray. His book The Silence of Animals was one I recommended to others. He is an excellent writer, and has got a lot of things right. One thing he consistently gets right is the logic of atheism; viz., the ramifications assuming there is no God. He is brilliantly critical of other atheists, especially missionary atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. And, he is funny. If you claim to be an atheist (which, in my experience, does not entail you actually are an atheist), you should read something like Gray's recent essay "What Scares the New Atheists." 

Gray knows what Nietzsche knew but the likes of Harris, for some reason, cannot fathom; viz., that you can't derive "ought" from "is." Gray writes:

"It’s probably just as well that the current generation of atheists seems to know so little of the longer history of atheist movements. When they assert that science can bridge fact and value, they overlook the many incompatible value-systems that have been defended in this way. There is no more reason to think science can determine human values today than there was at the time of Haeckel or Huxley. None of the divergent values that atheists have from time to time promoted has any essential connection with atheism, or with science. How could any increase in scientific knowledge validate values such as human equality and personal autonomy? The source of these values is not science. In fact, as the most widely-read atheist thinker of all time argued, these quintessential liberal values have their origins in monotheism."

And just who might that atheist thinker be? It's none other than Nietzsche, who understood atheism while remaining largely misunderstood even today. Gray writes: "The reason Nietzsche has been excluded from the mainstream of contemporary atheist thinking is that he exposed the problem atheism has with morality." Nietzsche, Gray, and the likes of Georges Bataille understood that "when monotheism has been left behind morality can’t go on as before. Among other things, the universal claims of liberal morality become highly questionable." 

This is because (now pay attention to this) "Nietzsche was clear that the chief sources of liberalism were in Jewish and Christian theism: that is why he was so bitterly hostile to these religions. He was an atheist in large part because he rejected liberal values." 

Can a liberal morality be embraced without God? Not at all. "The trouble is that it’s hard to make any sense of the idea of a universal morality without invoking an understanding of what it is to be human that has been borrowed from theism. The belief that the human species is a moral agent struggling to realise its inherent possibilities – the narrative of redemption that sustains secular humanists everywhere – is a hollowed-out version of a theistic myth. The idea that the human species is striving to achieve any purpose or goal – a universal state of freedom or justice, say – presupposes a pre-Darwinian, teleological way of thinking that has no place in science."

Now that is some beautiful reasoning. Anyone who wants to overcome the abyss of relativism (and nihilism) and have "their values secured by something beyond the capricious human world had better join an old-fashioned religion." Indeed.

Gray has a lot more to say, and says it well. 

Solitary Unbusyness with God

Doors, in Monroe County

Today I've been able to get away and get alone with God. I've prayed for some things, and listened for God's voice. I've written some things down in my journal that are from God, to me. All this restores, renews, and refreshes me. 

I get away often and meet with God. So did Jesus. It was his custom to go alone to meet with the Father. If Jesus needed to do this, who am I not to, since I am one of his followers.And it is so very, very good to do this. It's good for God, for me, for Linda, and for my church family and beyond. Nothing but life and goodness comes from much time spent alone in God's presence.

The simple truth is that God is God, and I am not. Ruth Haley Barton emphasizes the importance of acknowledging this. She writes:

"There are limits to my relational, emotional, mental and spiritual capacities. I am not God. God is the only one who can be all things to all people. God is the only one who can be two places at once. God is the one who never sleeps. I am not. We can’t remind ourselves of this enough. This is pretty basic stuff, but many of us live as though we don’t know it."

My effectiveness for Christ and his kingdom is directly proportional to my solitary unbusyness in relationship with God.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Christ, Not Muhammad, Is the Man of Peace

Monroe Couty
I'm reading William Kilpatrick's Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. Kilpatrick argues, effectively, that Christianity is the religion of peace, not Islam. There's really no comparison between Christ and Muhammad. He writes:

"The imitation of Christ and the imitation of Muhammad lead a person in very different directions. Even a poor imitation of Christ (which is all most Christians can muster) is preferable to an excellent imitation of Muhammad." No doubt. 

Reject Performance-Based Churches

Is your church performance-based or Spirit-formed?
  • Are you trying to attain your goal by human effort or by the empowering presence and leading of God’s Spirit?
  • What would have to change for your church to become a Spirit-formed community?
James van Yperen, in Making Peace: A Guide to Overcoming Church Conflict, asks these questions. (p. 74). Van Yperen knows that many American churches are performance-based rather than Spirit-formed. This is not good, and explains a lot of church conflict.

He writes: 

"Pick up almost any book about church growth or leadership today, and the dominant theme will be performance—how you can do more and achieve more. Words like “effective,” “dynamic,” and “productive” describe the values and goals of leadership. Much is given to models and methods of leadership and growth. Little is said about spiritual formation." (73)

After beginning with the Spirit, many are now trying to "do church" in their own strength and by their own wisdom and efforts. (Galatians 3:3)

This distinction is key to understanding church conflict. The performance-based church creates an "audience," a bunch of "consumers," and audiences and consumers do what they do best: critique and complain. "A Spirit-formed community," in contrast, "is formed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not the personality or gifts of a man or woman." (74) 

The questions of the Spirit-formed community are not: "Do you like the worship?" or "Do you like the pastor?" In the Spirit-formed church people are not worshiping to please you.

Van Yperen is so good here. He writes:

"When a church gathers around a central figure who leads out of his or her knowledge, experience, or gifts alone, the church’s identity is inevitably tied to the ego and self-esteem of the leader. It becomes performance-based. By performance-based, we mean that planning and evaluation are focused on human achievement. Success or failure is measured by the growth and size of the church, the number of conversions, the latest facility expansion, or whether people approve of sermons, music, and so forth. Identity is measured by position, power, and accomplishment." (Ib.)

Real "church" is about God and Jesus, not some pastor or worship team. The consumer-audience will not understand this. Some pastors and worship teams don't want to understand this. This is one reason why, in our context, we don't put some "great musician" on the platform with our worship team if they are not primarily a passionate worshiper of Jesus and walk in humility and self-denial.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

God's Commands are Authoritative Words that Have Illocutionary Force

Monroe County Community College

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
- Genesis 1:3

When God said "Let there be light" it was not in the sense of "Permit there to be light." Rather, as John Goldingay writes, it was in the sense of "There is to be light" or "There must be light" or "There shall be light." God simply demands like a theater director, "Light!"" (Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel's Gospel, 32) Lke: "Lights! Camera! Action!"

When God says "Light!" that is enough to make it happen. So we read "and there was light." 

Goldingay writes:

"The process involves supreme illogic. There is nowhere the suggestion that somewhere there is a dynamic source of light that can put forth light. In the same way, when God says "The waters are to gather together" or "The earth is to put forth vegetation," there is no implication that waters or earth already have the potential to obey these commands. It is the command that mysteriously generates them, as words can." (Ib., emphasis mine)

Philosopher J.L. Austin, in his philosophically famous book How to Do Things With Words, explained how certain words can do things; that is, certain words, said by people who have authority, have "illocutionary force." In such cases, saying makes it so. 

For example, because I am a pastor recognized by the state of Michigan, when I say the words to a couple "I now pronounce you husband and wife," they are, upon my pronouncement, husband and wife. But should you, assuming you are not a pastor, walk up to a couple on the street and utter the words "I now pronounce you husband and wife," nothing will happen. Your speech act will "do" nothing, except tperhaps get you taken to the hospital. In Austin's language your speek act "misfires" because you lack the authority to do such things with your words.

It was Jesus' claim to perform illocutionary acts with his words that had the religious leaders marveling about his authority. In Mark 9:10, for example, Jesus states that he, the Son of Man, has the authority to forgive sins. Then Jesus tells a paralyzed man, "Get up, take up your mat, and go home." Here Jesus' words do two things: 

1) at his word one's sins are forgiven; and 

2) at his word the paralyzed man is healed.

God said "Let there be light." And light came into existence.

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
- Matthew 10:1

Because of this God-given authority our words have illocutionary force.

Community Is Where Humility and Glory Touch (PrayerLife)

Experiencing Community in New York City
"Community is where humility and glory touch."

Henri Nouwen

The Real Jesus called forth a community to dwell in and work through. Not a bunch of isolated, detached individuals. Call this: "church." Ekklesia

Ek + kaleo = the called-out-by-Christ people of God.

Effective, Jesus-indwelt community requires individual and corporate humility. Every individual in the totality abandons themselves to the will and ways of God. This is Real Church, and it's a Communal Movement. 

The individual "Christian" who refuses to connect with Church (even though this is their identity) and stands outside Church in criticism is a biblical and theological apostate. People like this choose pride over humility. 

The glory of God refuses to descend on a proud heart. God's glory does fall on the humble. We read:

“God opposes the proud,
    but gives grace to the humble.”
- James 4:6

 How very good and pleasant it is
    when kindred live together in unity!
 It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down upon the beard,

on the beard of Aaron,

    running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
    life forevermore.
- Psalm 133:1-3

The humble, unified Jesus Community can expect to experience God's...
  • blessing
  • grace
  • glory
  • presence
  • leading
  • power
  • love
  • fruit
  • giftings
Pray for humility, and for your Jesus Community.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

We're Alone & Special In the Universe

Gary Larson (the brilliant)

Following Ward and Brownlee's Rare Earth theory, I doubt that intelligent life exists anywhere in the universe outside of earth. Harvard astrophysicist Owen Gingerich and astrobiologist Caleb Sharf suspect the same.

Sharf's new book is The Copernican Complex: Our Cosmic Sigificance in a Universe of Planets and Probablities, and is reviewed by Gingerich here ("Solar Complexus: we may be alone after all"). The "Copernican Principle" comes from Copernicus's discovery that our erth is not at the center of our solar system and, by extension, the universe. This discovery led people to believe that:

  1. We occupy an unimportant, mediocre, and unprivileged position in the cosmos; and
  2. The universe is teeming with intelligent extraterrestrial life.

Sharf challenges both of these beliefs.

To those enthusaistic about the possibility of extraterrertrial intelligent life Sharf writes: “[O]ne can easily argue that there has never been any data at all on the presence or absence of other life in the cosmos. I don’t want to make this sound too depressing, but it’s true—which is why we’re lucky we’ve discovered beer and chocolate to console ourselves.”

And, Sharf challenges the belief that we and our erth are not really special. He argues that "we are far from occupying an unimportant, mediocre, and unprivileged position in the cosmos. To take but one example, our well-ordered planetary system with the planets nicely spaced and in the same plane seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Quite possibly the moon was formed in a collision between Earth and a Mars-sized planet, which after an era of chaotic confusion, ultimately had a powerful stabilizing effect on our terrestrial system."

Probably, we are alone in the universe.