Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Praying as Overcoming the World

The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island
A consistent, ongoing praying life brings an overcoming of our fear-driven, anxiety-producing world. For me it looks like this:

1. I abide in Christ, in the act of praying.
2. Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).
3. Therefore I overcome the world. (Christ in me, the hope of glory - right?)

My status as a Jesus-follower is that I am "in Christ." Praying, then, actively demonstrates my in-Christ status. As Christ is formed in me (Galatians 4:19) He gives me His peace and joy (John 14:27; 15:11).

Henri Nouwen describes world-overcoming and transformation into Christlikeness:

"When we enter into solitude we will often hear these two voices - the voice of the world and the voice of the Lord - pulling us in two contrary directions. But if we keep returning faithfully to the place of solitude, the voice of the Lord will gradually become stronger and we will come to know and understand with mind and heart the peace we are searching for." (Nouwen, The Road to Peace: Writings on Peace and Justice, 23)

In solitary praying I come to know peace and thus overcome agitation. I am made whole, by Christ, and grow beyond the chaos and fragmentation around me.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Praying As an Act of Protest

Praying for one another, at Redeemer
One of the results of an ongoing praying life is that God removes unrighteous anger from my heart. God takes the chip off my shoulder. He softens the edge. He forms His heart of compassion in me for my enemies. He frees me from the prison cell of hatred, and releases me to love in ways I have never done before. 

For me this is not a theory but an empirical reality. My wife Linda has seen the results. I am a better husband as Christ is more deeply formed in me. I get changed. Most of this happens as I am praying. 

In praying I am clay on a potter's wheel. I am not the agent of my own transformation, God is. Many times I can feel Him shaping me.

This is praying as an act of resistance to the common, unholy structures of the world which demand conformation to their will. To pray is to protest against the hate-filled standards of our culture.  

Henri Nouwen writes: "Entering the special solitude of prayer is a protest against a world of manipulation, competition, rivalry, suspicion, defensiveness, anger, hostility, mutual aggression, destruction, and war. It is a witness to the all-embracing, all-healing power of God's love." (Nouwen, The Road to Peace: Writings on Peace and Justice, 22-23)

Friday, September 25, 2015

God Is the Transcendent Referent of Prayer

Hidden Lake Gardens
Tipton, Michigan

God invites us to communicate with him. The invitation to the daily God-conference is addressed to us, and signed "Love, God." 

God addresses us with the words "Talk with me." This is the invitation to pray. All we need to do is accept it and engage with God.

God is not too busy to communicate with us. And, he desires to do so. God wants to and will meet with you now. He initiates this.

Robert Simpson writes:

"God is the transcendent Referent of prayer in yet another sense. The effects of prayer, the movement of prayer, are not the result of human initiative; rather, prayer begins with God. As the fathers indicate, God provides the form, the content, and the power of prayer; hence its very possibility. Thus we assert that prayer itself is a gift of grace, that it wells up in the context of grace." 
- Simpson, The Interpretation of Prayer in the Early Church, pp. 165-66. Cited in Stanley Grenz, Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom, Kindle Locations 441-443.


Talk with me today.

Love,

God

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What About the Amalekites? (And other issues...)

The Valley of Elah, in Israel


Whenever someone asks me the question "What about the Amalekites?" I ask them if they are willing to study this textually rather than irrationally assume something and then conclude that God in the OT is evil.

If you  have this question and want understanding than you can't do better than begin with two books by theistic philosopher Paul Copan:



A number of scholars are coming out with studies that deal with the issue of how God is presented in the Old Testament as compared with the New Testament. Copan is one of those. He's a clear writer and an excellent scholar. One of his essays is in God Is Great, God Is Good, edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister. It's entitled "Are Old Testament Laws Evil?" Here are the main points. (Note: Copan's essay should be read in its entirety. It's very good.)

Copan writes to answer the likes of Richard Dawkins who, representing other New Atheists, thinks God is a "moral monster." Dawkins writes: "What makes my jaw drop is that people today should base their lives on such an appalling role model as Yahweh - and even worse, that they should bossily try to force the same evil monster (whether fact or fiction) on the rest of us." (134)

Copan responds by saying that "these charges made by the New Atheists are a distorted representation of Old Testament ethics." They fail to consider, e.g.,:
  • the earliest creational ideals (Genesis 1-2)
  • the warm moral ethos pof the Old Testament
  • the context of the ancient Near East
  • the broader biblical canon
  • the metaphysical context that undergirds objective morality
The New Atheists' ignorance of such things (because they are far from being scholars in these areas) results in a "somewhat crass hermeneutic and left-wing fundamentalism." (136) Copan looks at five areas needed to respond to the New Atheist critique.

1. Mosaic law and historical narratives

The Law of Moses (Exodus 20 - Numbers 10) is not a self-contained moral code that gives us "an ultimate, universal ethic." (137) Rather, it is situated in a "larger narrative framework that provides a wider moral context to consider." (137) "A plain reading of Israel's priestly/legal codes reveals that they are embedded within a broader historical narrative." (137) God instructs Israel not by laying down laws or principles but by telling stories. The Torah's legal material "is consistently intertwined with narrative." (137)

When critics like Dawkins point out how morally flawed many of the OT characters are, Jesus-followers need not disagree. When atheist Christopher Hitchens talks of "the ungrateful and mutinous children of Israel," he is correct. But note that such descriptions "do not necessarily amount to prescriptions." In other words, the historical "is" does not logically imply the moral "ought." (138) When Dawkins et. al. fume about how morally wacked-out some of the OT figures are, we can say, "Uh-huh."

2. The Mosaic law, human sin and divine ideals

"The Mosaic law reflects a meeting point between divine/creational ideals and the reality of human sin and evil social structures." (138) The ancient Near Eastern world is "totally alien" and "utterly unlike" our world. Copan here quotes Bruce Birch: "These [OT] texts are rooted in a cultural context utterly unlike our own, with moral presuppositions and categories that are alien and in some cases repugnant to our modern sensibilities." (138) Thus there is something fundamentally anachronistic in critiquing the Mosaic law from our 21st-century Western framework.

What does this imply? The implication is: we followers of Jesus do not need to claim that the Mosaic law is "the Bible's moral pinnacle." Consequently, we "need not justify all aspects of the Sinaitic legal code. After all, God begins with an ancient people who have imbibed dehumanizing customs and social structures from their ancient Near Eastern context." (138) As OT scholar John Goldingay writes: "God starts with his people where they are; if they cannot cope with his highest way, he carves out a lower one." (139)

Copan adds that the New Atheists gloss over the crucial point that "none of these inferior moral practices and attitudes (e.g., slavery, patriarchy, tribalism) is 'without a contrary witness' elsewhere in the Old Testament." (139)

3. Mosaic law, cuneiform law and moral improvements

Copan devotes several pages to developing this point. Which is: "Mosaic legislation reflects a revolutionary moral improvement over the existing Near Eastern cuneiform laws - even if this is ethically inferior and less than ideal." (139)

While there are some parallels between ancient Near Eastern (ANE) moral codes, the Mosaic law provides several "previously unheard-of improvements." (140) The way slaves are treated in the OT improves over ANE practices. And ANE culture had a sexual morality decidely inferior to Mosaic law. For example, "Hittite law even permitted bestiality: 'If a man has sexual relations with either a horse or a mule, it is not an offence.'" (142)

Copan cites several examples of ANE moral law which would have caused "the informed inhabitant of the ancient Near East" to think, "Quick, get me to Israel!"" (143)

4. The Mosaic law, Israel's history and varying ethical demands

"Israel's variegated contexts or developmental stages suggest appropriately varied moral responses but also include permanent moral insights." (145) Israel shifts from...
  • ...an ancestral wandering clan to...
  • ...a theocratic nation to...
  • ...a monarchy or institutional state/kingdom to...
  • ...an afflicted remnant too, finally...
  • ...a postexilic community assembly of promise. (145)
Each of these stages "offers enduring moral insights - faithfulness and covenant-keeping, trusting in God, showing mercy." (145)

In terms of New Atheist concerns, consider "holy warfare." "It is primarily located in the second stage and not throughout Israel's Old Testament history, although Israel, like neighboring nations, had persistent enemies to be fended off." (145) In regard to "holy warfare" Copan gives seven points.

a. There was a morally sufficient reason for Israel to attack the Canaanites; viz., their intractably wicked culture.

b. "We have strong archaeological evidence that the targeted Canaanite cities, such as Jericho and Ai, were not population centers with women and children but military forts or garrisons that protected noncombatant civilians in the hill country." (145-146) "So, if Jericho was a fort, then "all" who were killed therein were warriors - Rahab and her family being the exceptional noncombatants dwelling within this militarized camp. The same applies throughout the book of Joshua." (146) So much, says Copan, for what many of us were taught in Sunday school classes!

c. On the Amalekites - "Israel's enduring enemy." (146) "The target could likewise be simply fortified Amalekite strongholds, not population centers. This is further suggested by the fact that the Amalekites were not all annihilated: within the very same book (1 Samuel 27:8; 30:1) we encounter an abundance of Amalekites. In these limited settings, herem [the "ban"] is thoroughly carried out (involving even livestock) - though the term allows, and hopes for, exceptions (e.g., Rahab and her relatives)." (146)

d. The "obliteration language" in Joshua "is clearly hyperbolic - another stock feature of ancient Near East language." (146) We know this because near the end of Joshua it is assumed that plenty of Canaanites still live in the land. (Joshua 23:12-13)

e. The language of "driving out the Canaanites" "does not require killing." (147)

f. God's command to drive out the Canaanites needs to be understood historically and contextually. Thus it does not provide "a universal ideal for international military engagement." (147) The context, which Copan spells out in some detail, is that of "Yahweh's loving intentions and faithful promises." (147)

g. "The crux of the issue is this: if God exists, does he have any prerogatives over human life?" (148) The New Atheists seem to think not. Copan writes, "for God to be God, he would have to pose an authority problem for human beings, but the New Atheists seem to ignore this." (148)

5. The Law of Moses, the biblical canon and moral undertones.

The Law of Moses, while temporary rather than ultimate, "still has its own deep moral warmth." (148) It finds its fulfillment in the new covenant fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Copan makes this important point: "The New Atheists tend to assume that the Mosaic law is comprehensively normative for the consistent Bible-believer. This huge presumption misses the flow of biblical revelation. In this regard Copan makes five points.

a. "Mosaic legislation isn't intended to be equated with the moral law... Contrary to the New Atheists' assumptions, the Mosaic law isn't the permanent, fixed theocratic standard for all nations." (149)

b. The Mosaic law reveals God's remarkable forbearance in the face of human hard-heartedness.

c. "The Mosaic law - an imporved, more humanized legislation - attempts to restrain and control an inferior moral mindset without completely abolishing these negative structures." (150)

d. "The Mosaic law contains seeds for moral growth, offering glimmers of light pointing to a higher moral path... In their zealous preoccupation with the negative in Old Testament ethics, the New Atheists neglect these warm undertones in the law of Moses itself, exemplified in Yahweh's gracious, compassionate character and his saving action." (151)

e. "The Mosaic law contains an inherent planned obsolescence, which is to be fulfilled in Christ." (151_ Copan quotes N.T. Wright, who states that Torah "is given for a specific period of time and is then set aside - not because it was a bad thing now happily abolished, but because it was a good thing whose purpose had now been accomplished." (151) Copan writes: "If we allow that the Christ-event is part of the plotline, then we are obligated to allow it to 'cast its significance back onto our understanding of earlier texts." (151, quoting Robin Parry)

Copan concludes that the New Atheists "trivialize Yahweh." (152) They overstate and distort the challenges, using rhetoric and often-simplistic arguments rather than solid scholarship. Indeed, what do the New Atheists know about the Old Testament and Yahweh, anyway? Precious little, it seems, perhaps only what they picked up as children in a Sunday school class long since forgotten.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Dalai Lama Leads Us Down the Dangerous, Untrue Rabbit Hole of "Happiness"

In the philosophy of religion text I use in teaching my MCCC classes, the Dalai Lama has a piece called "Buddhism and Other Religions." In his attempt to syncretize the world's religions he puts forward a claim that is false and, it seems to me, disrespectful (perhaps out of ignorance). He writes:

"If we view the world's religions from the widest possible viewpoint, and examine their ultimate goal, we find that all of the major world religions, whether Christianity or Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism, are directed to the achievement of permanent happiness. They are all directed toward that goal. All religions emphasize the fact that the true follower must be honest and gentle, in other words, that a truly religious person must always strive to be a better human being. To this end, the world's religions teach different doctrines which will help transform the person. In this regard, all religions are the same. This is something we must emphasize. We must consider the question of religious diversity from this viewpoint. And when we do, we can find no conflict." (Peterson et. al., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, Eighth edition, 578; from The Dalai Lama, Answers: Discussions with Western Buddhists )

In this quote the Dalai Lama is wrong on at least two counts.

1. The goal of Christianity is not "the achievement of permanent happiness." Rather, the stated goal of Christianity is the worship of God, who is our Creator. The DL denies, in this essay, that there is a Creator God, viewing it as but a "religious philosophy" or a "different doctrine" from other religions, such as non-theistic variations of Buddhism. Christianity, therefore, cannot be subsumed under some "broader," more inclusive category such as "achieving permanent happiness." The Christian goal is nothing less than: worship of God. Christians have always seen this as different from happiness. For example, C.S. Lewis was once asked if he became a Christian to make himself happy. Lewis replied: “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” (Quoted from Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, 58) 
The Dalai Lama's idea makes Christianity something other than it is; therefore it cannot be subsumed under the "happiness" umbrella.

2.  DL says: "a truly religious person must always strive to be a better human being." I do think there are many Christians who would agree to this; indeed, who are "striving" to become better people. But this is not representative of the truly radical Jesus-and-Pauline-idea that all striving to be "better" must cease because it will not help us. Instead Jesus, in his Final Discourse, instructs his disciples that they are to abide rather than strive; viz., they are to connect themselves as a branch to Jesus, the True Vine. In a place of such connectness the idea of "striving" or "trying harder" is irrelevant when it comes to idea of Christ being formed in his followers, and living a fruit-bearing life. For me, the DL's statement actually takes me away from the heart of Christianity and, as such, is dangerous.

Behind all this lies the DL's a-theism (or non-theism; or non-committalism towards theism). He writes:

"Likewise, the variety of the different world religious philosophies is a very useful and beautiful thing. For certain people, the idea of God as creator and of everything depending on his will is beneficial and soothing, and so for that person such a doctrine is worthwhile. For someone else, the idea that there is no creator, that ultimately, one is oneself the creator - that everything depends upon oneself - is more appropriate... For such persons, this idea is better and for the other type of person, the other idea is more suitable. You see, there is no conflict, no problem. This is my belief." (Ib.)

Here the DL is guilty of commiting the subjectivist fallacy; viz., that truth is a function of what a person believes. The claim God exists is either true or false. If it's true, then it's true for all persons; and of it's false, it's false for all persons. Christians throughout history are wagering it is true. In this matter truth is more important than beneficiality.

Anyone interested in more should read Boston U's Stephen Prothero's God Is Not One. Here's a snippet:

At least since the first petals of the counterculture bloomed across Europe and the United States in the 1960s, it has been fashionable to affirm that all religions are beautiful and all are true... Like Gandhi, the Dalai Lama affirms that “the essential message of all religions is very much the same.” In his view, however, what the world’s religions share is not so much God as the Good—the sweet harmony of peace, love, and understanding that religion writer Karen Armstrong also finds at the heart of every religion... as Hindu teacher Swami Sivananda writes, “The fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. There is difference only in the non-essentials.” This is a lovely sentiment but it is dangerous, disrespectful, and untrue. For more than a generation we have followed scholars and sages down the rabbit hole into a fantasy world in which all gods are one." (Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter, pp. 2-3)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

All Alone in the Universe


Holland, Michigan light house

Tomorrow in one of my MCCC logic classes I'm going to present the "rare earth" argument concerning extraterrestrial life. This serves two purposes for me: 1) it's an example of the use of logic to formulate an argument for a belief; and 2) it's intrinsically interesting to students, many of whom are taken by the discussion. For some this is even a religious thing. Some students get pretty defensive when presented with the idea that, most likely, intelligent life does not exist outside earth. Why freak out about this possibility? Why care? But some do.

Years ago I read Ward and Brownlee's Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe. Here's the argument:

 1) Complex life is very fragile, and can only exist in a habitable zone.

2) A habitable zone suitable for complex life has many rare earth factors that have come together and appear fine-tuned for complex life.

3) The odds of such factors is astronomical. (That is, of them coming together randomly. If there are other such planets, it would be astounding on the random approach, and would argue for the existence of God.)

4) Therefore, intelligent life probably exists only on Earth and nowhere else in the universe.

Note: this is a probableistic arguments which renders the massive size of our universe irrelevant.

See also the rare earth work done by Harvard's Howard Smith. See, e.g., Smith's "On Living Alone in the Universe: New Indications of our Probable Solution." The bullets are:

  • Very few planets in our neighborhood are suitable and stable enough to nurture life to evolve and become intelligent.
  • We are alone in the universe for all practical purposes. "We are not likely to make contact with an alien intelligence, or even to know if one exists, for at least 100 human generations and perhaps for very much longer."
  • The “Misanthropic Principle” is the observation that, in a universe whose physical parameters are amazingly well suited for intelligent life (the “Anthropic Principle”), the environments and situations necessary for intelligence to develop are extraordinarily rare."
Smith places rare earth factors into four essential ones: "(1) Stability: a suitable planet’s orbit must be stable, that is, sufficiently circular or otherwise unchanging so that it remains suitable not only for one revolution around its star, but for the billions of years it takes for intelligence to evolve. The star it orbits must be stable in size and radiative output for this long too. (2) Habitability - Water: a suitable planet must reside in the  "habitable zone" of  
the star, that is, at a distance from the star where the temperatures allow water to be liquid – or else have some other mechanism to maintain liquid water. (3) Planetary Mass: The planet must be massive enough that its gravity can hold an atmosphere, but not so massive that plate tectonics are inhibited, since geological processing and its important consequences will be reduced. (4) Composition: The planet must be rich in all the key elements needed to build complex molecules (carbon for example), but also including heavy elements like iron, silicon, etc., that are perhaps not needed for making life itself but that are essential for an environment that can host intelligent life."

Smith's essay develops the four areas.

Ward and Brownlee's rare earth factors are:  

  • Right distance from a star;
  • habitat for complex life;
  • liquid water near surface; 
  • far enough to avoid tidal lock; 
  • right mass of star with long enough lifetime and not too much ultraviolet; 
  • stable planetary orbits; 
  • right planet mass to maintain atmosphere and ocean with a solid molten core and enough heat for plate tectonics; 
  • a Jupiter-like neighbor to clear out comets and asteroids; 
  • plate tectonics to build up land mass, enhance bio-diversity, and enable a magnetic field; 
  • not too much, nor too little ocean; 
  • a large moon at the right distance to stabilize tilt; a small Mars-like neighbor as possible source to seed Earth-like planet; maintenance of adequate temperature, composition and pressure for plants and animals; 
  • a galaxy with enough heavy elements, not too small, ellipyical or irregular; 
  • right position the galaxy; 
  • few giant impacts like had 65 million years ago; 
  • enough carbon for life, but not enough for runaway greenhouse effect; 
  • evolution of oxygen and photosynthesis; 
  • and, of course, biological evolution.
It's 10 PM in Michigan. I think I'll step outside and look up at the stars, and think of the fact that we're all alone in the universe.

In Praying I Can Bring More of Me to God

Wyandotte, Michigan

The best spiritual place to be with God is in full transparency. God knows what's in me anyway, so why not bare it all?

Why reveal anything at all if God already knows me fully, inside and out? The answer is: the God-thing is about a relationship, not a ritual. God loves me, and wants me to trust His love. Relationship requires my response.



Good parents know a lot about their child. The child does not know this. If the child steals something, the most fruitful spiritual response will be for the child to come forth on their own rather than being exposed by their parents. Even if the parents already know. The parents want the child to trust them

In a similar way God desires me to bring my entire self before Him. This is how I learn to trust that God will always be truthful and loving towards me, and has His best interests in mind when it comes to me.
When it comes to other people, voluntary vulnerability is my response. I cannot be fully transparent before most people, for they are not God. I cannot trust their response to me will be loving and truthful. There are only a handful of people I can be entirely open before. 

I can be open before my wife Linda. Certain qualities in her allow me to trust her with my deepest self.
  • She loves me
  • She never condemns me
  • She's not out to "get me"
  • She never tries to control me
  • She is forgiving (because she, like me, has been forgiven much)
  • She speaks truthfully to me (no game-playing or manipulating)
  • She champions my spiritual being - she wants Christ to be more deeply formed in me
I discovered this in her over 42 years ago. If she has changed it's that she's gotten better at this.

But my wife is not God. God is safer and better than either of us. As I cry out to God for more of Him this will mean laying more of me before Him. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Speak Up or Decline

Greencrest Manor, Battle Creek

It is important that Jesus' followers speak out publicly about our beliefs and trust in him. One sure way to fuel decline in Jesus-belief is to keep our mouths shut about our convictions. Remember that, while our mouths are silenced, the voices of certain evangelistic convert-seeking atheists are blaring loud and clear about their beliefs.

Refusal to publicly profess and proclaim is a sign of uncertainty and even unbelief. In an article for the American Scholar Historian James Hitchcock wrote, in 1976: 

"Groups that become diffident about their beliefs in the public forum, that renounce the desire to make converts, that profess to see broad areas of agreement between themselves and other groups and admit there are many roads to the same destination, that acknowledge the dogmatism and rigidity of their past—these are usually groups that have begun to doubt their own legitimacy at some profound level."
- In William Kilpatrick, Christianity, Islam and Atheism, Kindle Locations 3953-3956.

Redeemer Youth Ministries Kick Off Tonight!




KING DAVID, PSALMS, & TODAY'S WORSHIPER: HOW TO FIND YOUR OWN LANGUAGE IN WORSHIP

Image result for redeemer ministry school


Class begins Sept. 17 and meets Thursday evenings, 7:00 - 9:00 PM.  Last class Thursday, Nov. 19.
Taught by Holly Benner

King David didn't have a hymnal, a worship team, or power point slides to tell him what to sing or say to God in worship. He had a relationship. Out of that relationship came the most incredible collection of worship expressions. The Psalms reveal David's love language to God. This workshop will dive into David's relationship with God, take a journey through the Psalms in hopes to help you find your individual worship expressions to God.

Class meets at Redeemer Fellowship Church

To enroll contact the office, or me at johnpiippo@msn.com. 

Prayer: Asking Anything In Jesus' Name

Tree in Monroe
I was talking with someone about John 14:13-14 where Jesus says, "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." My friend asked me: "How are we to understand these words? Surely it doesn't mean we can pray for just anything and God will comply!"

Here's my response to them. 


1) In context, Jesus says "I am in the Father and the Father is in me." This is Trinitarian stuff, the perichoretic union of mutual indwelling and interpenetrating and co-inhering. Peri-choresis means: to dance in a circle (from "peri'" [around], and "choresis" [dance; cf. Plato's use of this word as "cosmic dance" in the Timaeus]. In the Godhead we have the Big Dance of Everlasting Relationship. Jesus' words about "asking anything" are understood in this Trinitarian context. 

2) Jesus invites anyone who puts their faith in him to the Big Dance. This is huge! David Crump of Calvin College states its hugeness when he writes: “Divine union is at the heart of the Gospel of John. Jesus is the one sent from the Father to lead his people into a provocative, new terrain of perichoretic union with God” (slightly edited by me). The Father comes to make his home in us. Jesus is the Vine, the Father is the gardener, and we are the branches. What we say and what we do now comes from unity with the Godhead.


3) Understand points 1-2 above and you will understand praying as: talking with the Godhead about what we are thinking and doing together. Real Prayer comes out of the Big Dance. N. T. Wright, in his commentary on John, writes: "Praying 'in Jesus' name', then, means that, as we get to know who Jesus is, so we find ourselves drawn into his life and love and sense of purpose. We will then begin to see what needs doing, what we should be aiming at within our sphere of possibilities, and what resources we need to do it. When we then ask, it will be 'in Jesus' name', and to his glory; and, through that, to the glory of the father himself (verse 13). But, when all this is understood, we shouldn't go soft on that marvelous word anything. He said it, and he means it." (64)

When we are in spiritual sync with Jesus anything we ask in prayer will concern what he is thinking and doing. Within this context my understanding is that God, by his love and grace, is open to suggestions.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Book of Isaiah - Study With Me This Fall

Marc Chagall, "The Prophet Isaiah"
I will be teaching an in-depth Bible study on the book of Isaiah in our Redeemer Ministry School this fall.

The class begins this coming Sunday, September 20, 6-7:30 PM at Redeemer Fellowship Church

Special emphasis will be given to Isaiah chapter 6 and Isaiah chapter 53 (which is sometimes called "the Fifth Gospel."

Students are expected to bring their Bibles to each class. I will teach and allow for questions and discussion.

I will encourage students to use Isaiah this fall for their own personal devotional and prayer times, and keep an "Isaiah Journal" recording their own insights and questions.

I am using the following books for my own Isaiah studies:

The Theology of the Book of Isaiah: Diversity and Unity, by John Goldengay

The NIV Application Commentary: Isaiah, by John Oswalt

The Prophecy of Isaiah: Introduction and Commentary, by Alec Motyer

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser, eds.

If you have a question or want to join email me at:  johnpiippo@msn.com. 


Our Search for Identity and Our Awesome Facebook Life

I took a picture of this plaque in Cleveland.


“On Facebook, people are more concerned with making it look like they’re living 
rather than actually living.”

Howard, Gardner; Katie Davis. The App Generation: How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination In a Digital World (p. 63). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition. 

Does God Hate Me If I Am Divorced?

Recently a friend e-mailed me with some questions about divorce. Here are their questions in quotes, with my responses in bullets.

"For those of us who are Christians and have been divorced (either initiated by us or not) how would you respond to someone who says, "Does God hate me because I have been through a divorce?""
• The answer to this is: No. God loves you. God’s love does not go up and down with circumstances.
• Does God hate divorce? Yes. And it is good that he does. A divorce is not only a failure, but is also a breaking of a covenant made before God. One promises to stay together for all of life, until one dies, through better or worse. The results of the ripping apart of what God has “welded” together are devastating. See Mark 10:9, where the word for “joined together” is, literally, “welded together.” A wedding is a welding. Tear it apart and there’s damage to both welded pieces. And, there’s damage to the children. Anyone who thinks “The kids will be OK” is living in denial-la-la-land. See, e.g., Judith Wallenstein’s The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. No wonder God hates divorce!
• “Worse” times happen in every marriage. Every marriage has conflict. Every marriage faces stress and struggle and pain and misunderstanding and setbacks and letdowns and so on.
• In premarital counseling I use the FOCCUS material. I think it’s excellent, providing a premarital MRI of the relationship’s areas of strength and weakness, agreement and disagreement. As long as a person doesn’t lie on the FOCCUS inventory (which has happened), I feel we can greatly strengthen and prepare premarital couples for both better and worse.

“My first wife filed for divorce and I am now married to another woman. It seems when I hear people speak of divorce, they mention it in the negative. I am not in agreement with divorce; however, one spouse can't make another spouse remain in the marriage. My first wife chose to leave because we clashed or butted heads all the time. While I was willing to work it out, she was not. I think there are situations like mine where one person wants to stay but the other chooses to leave and they become marked with the "divorce" tag.”
• If one person chooses to divorce there’s not much the other can do about it. It’s good that you tried to save the marriage. There’s nothing intrinsically unsavable about your first marriage. It is a given that, in marriage, husband and wife will “butt heads.” Opposites, which first attracted, now repel and come against each other. You will never find a marriage where this does not happen.
• I think “divorce” is always “negative.” As a divorcee you can agree with that. It was painful for you. But, as I said above, God has not ceased loving you, and his plans and purposes have not been stripped away from you.

“One problem I have with that label is that in some cases it can't be fixed. If I cheat on my wife, I can stop doing that. If I lie and steal, I can stop doing that. I can't stop being a divorced person if my spouse refuses to be married to me. As a Christian, when we talk about grace and mercy for sins, doesn't that apply to divorce also?”
• I have never seen a troubled marriage that cannot be fixed. Ever. I’m talking about, probably, a thousand or something in that range over my forty years of ministry. Surely one doesn’t want to say that there are marriages God is powerless to repair? But it does take two persons to agree to get help. Usually both persons are 100% responsible for the marital problems. I suggest viewing it that way. If husband and wife are broken by their own failures that contribute to the marriage mess, then I feel we have a marriage that can be saved.
• Yes, of course, grace and mercy applies to divorce. I just don’t know what it would mean to say that they do not apply.

"If everyone in your congregation who was divorced came up to you and asked how could the rectify it, what would you say?"
• If persons are contemplating divorce, see some things I have written here.
• If they are legally divorced and want to “rectify” the relationship, I am all for doing that with God’s help. I think God is pleased when that happens.
• And, finally, we have seen a few divorced couples get remarried with wonderful results!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Swinburne's 5 Types of Religious Experience (Mediated and Unmediated Access to God)

Pond circles, in my back yard
In making a cumulative case for the existence of God I include religious experience. Increasingly, as time passes, this is important to me. I know it's not important to everybody. There are persons who claim to have never experienced religiously. I also know there are persons who have, e.g., something like "Einsteinian wonder" but interpret this naturalistically. These things being true, they don't present a defeater my encounters with God, and my interpreting them as being from God.

My watershed religious experience came when, at age 21, someone told me "God loves you." I had heard and read these words many times before. But this time was different. They  set off an inner revolution that continues to this day. A large portion of my life has been dedicated to understanding the nature and source of this experience. One thing that has helped me is teaching my philosophy of religion courses, and occasionally teaching a section on religious experience as presented in most standard philosophy of religion texts.

What does religious experience look like? Here is Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne's 5 types of religious experience, from the perspective of the experiencer. (Taken from Reason and Religious Belief; An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, eds. Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger; 29 ff.)

1. Experience of God or Ultimate Reality mediated through a common, public, sensory object. For example, one might claim to see God in an icon, sunset, or ocean. Icons or sunsets are not God, but objects in and through which God or the transcendent is encountered.

My journals are filled with God-experiences mediated through sense experience. History, modern and ancient, is filled with these kind of theophanies. Here, for example, is Nehemiah 9:6 - You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. Verses like these melt the hearts of some of us.

2. Experience of God or Ultimate Reality mediated through an unusual, public, sensory object. For example, one might claim to experience the transcendent through an appearance of the Virgin at Lourdes, a figure seen in a cloud formation, or in a bush that burned but was not consumed.

3. Experience of God or Ultimate Reality mediated through private sensations that can be described in normal sensory language. Visions, dreams, locutions, and the like, despite being described in sensory language, are available only to one person. For example, a person might claim to experience God in a dream or vision, as did Peter, who, in a trance, saw a cloth filled with unkosher animals lowered from heaven.

God has, on occasion, spoken to me through a dream. I have a few of them that I interpret and clearly from God (via inference to the best explanation).

4. Experience of God or Ultimate Reality mediated through private sensations that cannot be described in normal sensory language. Here one feels or claims to experience something, but it cannot be spoken about; it is ineffable.

These are non-discursive experiences. I have had some of them, and written about this here and here.

5. Experience of God or Ultimate Reality that is not mediated by any sensations. The person claims to be intuitively and immediately aware of God or the One.

I've had this kind of experience as well.

Experiences with God are important because experience, not theory, breeds conviction.

***
Note: Charles Taylor's work influences me; e.g., his majestic "A Secular Age." Taylor has recently collaborated with the great philosopher Hubert Dreyfus in Retrieving Realism. See a review here. Taylor and Dreyfus critique mediational theories of knowledge and argue for unmediated access to reality. Perhaps this work can, by logical extension, validate experiences of unmediated access to God. See # 5 above.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A.S.L.O.



The primary thing every follower of Jesus must do is: dwell in God’s presence. Resolutely, I will choose to abide in Christ. 

We see these concepts in both the First Testament and the Second Testament.

In the First Testament we have the idea of “the presence of God,” especially in the Temple. In the Second Testament we have the idea of “abiding in Christ,” as given by Jesus in John 14-16, and the “in Christ” status Paul writes about in his letters (my identity - I am the Lord's.).

I have an acronym I use to describe a Jesus-follower’s job description: 

A.S.L.O.

ABIDE


SATURATE



LISTEN



OBEY


ABIDE


·                     I will follow Jesus' final instructions to his disciples, given in John chapters 14-16. The results will be that...
·                     I am a branch, connected to Jesus the True Vine
·                     My life will be fruit-bearing
·                     I will experience his love
·                     I will experience his peace (not "peace" like our world gives)
·                     I will experience his joy
·                     With Christ in me I do the things that Jesus did
·                     I will not go up and down according to the circumstances of life
·                     I will not be a conference-dependent or book-dependent follower of Jesus
·                     I will live in expectation. Today, and this week, could contain a watershed moment. Anything good and amazing can happen to the Jesus-follower who lives attached to Jesus, who lives "in Christ."


SATURATE
·                     I will take The Book and read
·                     I will meditate on the biblical text
·                     I will slow-cook in the teriyaki sauce of God's thoughts and God's ways and God's promises
·                     I will shut my ears to our hyper-wordy world and attend to the deep words of Scripture
·                     I will fix my eyes, not on things seen, but on things unseen
·                     I will be illuminated by God's Spirit
·                     God's Spirit will escort my heart to its true home


LISTEN
·                     God has much to say to me this week
·                     Today, I have "ears to hear"
·                     I will be alert
·                     I will live with ears wide open
·                     When God speaks to me, I will write it down in my journal
·                     I will remember the words of the Lord, to me
·                     God will tell me that he loves me
·                     God will shepherd me. Jesus said that his sheep hear his voice. That's me.
·                     God will lead me in paths of righteousness, not for my glory, but for his sake


OBEY
·                     God will direct my paths
·                     God will make my paths straight
·                     The inner "GPS" ("God Positioning System") is turned on
·                     Where he leads me, I will follow
·                     I will experience life as an adventure
·                     In obedience to God, my life finds meaning and purpose

A.S.L.O.

This is my primary “job responsibility” of pastors and Christian leaders. Without this I will be irrelevant, inauthentic, and subject to irrational anxieties and fears.