Friday, December 30, 2016

Praying Book Study at Redeemer - Jan - May 2017


Image result for johnpiippo praying


I will lead a five-month book study on my new book Praying. In this study, which will include practical application, we will cover many aspects of a praying life. I will take participants deep into a life of prayer. 

Everyone who attends will receive a copy of the Study Guide. 

First meeting - Saturday morning, Jan. 7, 10 AM, in the blue classroom. 

I will teach out of my book. 

You can attend without buying the book, or you can purchase it at amazon.com

This class will meet once a month, Jan - May. 

Our prayer focus will be the Psalms. 

A sign-up sheet is in the lobby. Or, send me an email - johnpiippo@msn.com.

Praying Book Study at Redeemer - Jan - May 2017


Image result for johnpiippo praying


I will lead a five-month book study on my new book Praying. In this study, which will include practical application, we will cover many aspects of a praying life. I will take participants deep into a life of prayer. 

Everyone who attends will receive a copy of the Study Guide. 

First meeting - Saturday morning, Jan. 7, 10 AM, in the blue classroom. 

I will teach out of my book. 

You can attend without buying the book, or you can purchase it at amazon.com

This class will meet once a month, Jan - May. 

Our prayer focus will be the Psalms. 

A sign-up sheet is in the lobby. Or, send me an email - johnpiippo@msn.com.

God Desires Participants, not Admirers

Detroit

Soren Kierkegaard writes:

"Is God's meaning, in Christianity, simply to humble man through the model (that is to say putting before us the ideal) and to console him with 'Grace,' but in such a way that through Christianity there is expressed the fact that between God and man there is no relationship, that man must express his thankfulness like a dog to man, so that adoration becomes more and more true, and more and more pleasing to God, as it becomes less and less possible for man to imagine that he could be like the model? ... Is that the meaning of Christianity? Or is it the very reverse, that God's will is to express that he desires to be in relation with man, and therefore desires the thanks and the adoration which is in spirit and in truth: imitation? The latter is certainly the meaning of Christianity. But the former is a cunning invention of us men (although it may have its better side) in order to escape from the real relation to God." (In David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor, 28)

Real Jesus-following is a following-after Jesus, a participation rather than spectating. It's not pew-sitting and being entertained, but "following the footsteps of Christ in imitation" (St Francis of Assisi, in Ib., 27). Real Church was never meant to be an entertainment center.

David Augsburger says that authentic Jesus-spirituality "accepts no substitute for actual participation." (Ib.) Augsburger writes: "We are not observers, not spectators, not admirers, not onlookers, not conceptualizers, but participants. Participation is the central theological framework of all careful thought-about spirituality...

...The ideal of discipleship as participation through the imitation of Christ is a recurring theme, reemerging wherever the practice of following Jesus in life is given priority." (Ib.)

Anyone who claims to belong to Jesus must follow the path taken by Jesus. As Richard Stearns has written, Jesus is looking for disciples, not "deciders."

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Human Freedom Is Not Incompatible with God's Foreknowledge

Chicago Theological Seminary

Someone read my post on the compatibility of God's foreknowledge and human free will. They contacted me with a question, and then posted their question here, which reads:

"Recently I was reading about foreknowledge and free will, and looking at views that say that the two are incompatible and compatible.
In regards to the views that say the two are compatible, the people arguing for this view were bringing up the 'modal fallacy'. They formed their argument as such-
Given that A=God knows X will happen and B=X happens, there's a difference between the following two statements: 1) It is not possible for A to be true and B to be false, and 2) If A is true then it is not possible for B to be false.
The argument is that the first statement is true, but the second is false. However, I don't understand the difference between the two. The first statement is saying that A and B can't be true and false respectively (they both have to be true). So if God knows X will happen (A), then X will happen (B). Isn't the second statement saying the same thing but in a different way? It says that if A is true, then B cannot be false. This seems to be true as well, but somehow it's false (and different than the first statement?). Apparently, if A is true then B doesn't NECESSARILY have to be false, but that doesn't make sense, because the first statement literally said that it's impossible for A to be true and B to be false (and this statement is accepted to be true!). So, if A is true then doesn't B necessarily have to be false?
I don't seem to understand the difference between the two statements, and more importantly I don't get why the first statement is true but the second is false."

I emailed them my response to this, which is:

The two statements are not saying the same thing.

Statement 1 does not commit the modal fallacy.

Statement two does. Here’s how it does.
A conditional statement is made of two statements, an antecedent statement and a consequent statement.

E.g. – If God knows John will eat an orange, then John cannot not eat an orange. The consequent is equivalent to: It is necessary (logically) that John eat an orange.
But that statement (i.e., the consequent) ascribes logical necessity to a contingent event. In doing that, the modal fallacy is committed. Because: 1) it is possible for John to eat an orange; 2) It is probable (more or less) that John eat an orange; but 3) It is not logically necessary that John eat an orange. Thus, statement 2 commits the modal fallacy of ascribing logical necessity to a contingent event. (Because it is possible that John doesn't eat an orange.)

Therefore, God’s foreknowledge and human free will are not incompatible.
See esp. – The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Foreknowledge and Free Will" (scroll down to "The Modal Fallacy").





Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas - I'm Still Celebrating

I put this slide show together and showed it on Christmas Eve at Redeemer. I used some of my winter photos taken in Monroe, and added quotes on the birth of Christ.

Merry Christmas! (I'm still celebrating...)































Sunday, December 25, 2016

Uncovering Jesus at Christmas


We had ten inches of snow in Southeast Michigan a few weekends ago. This prevented a number of our people from coming to the church building on Sunday morning.

On Monday Linda and I were driving on Elm Street in Monroe. The snowfall had stopped. Everything was coated white. Even the nativity scene in front of one of our funeral homes was feeling the effects.

Linda pointed to the scene and said, "Look, something is wrong." Yes. The manger had so much snow on it that you couldn't see the point of it all. I looked and saw Mary, Joseph, animals, but no Jesus.

This bothered me.

I returned to the manger scene later in the day and took a photo, as evidence that a white Christmas covers up Jesus. It's not something we should be dreaming of.



As lo, the days of the week hastened on, the image of the snow-covered Jesus stayed with me. On Saturday it was still on my mind. I was at the state park on Lake Erie, working on my sermon. Snow-covered Jesus was getting to me. I thought, "This is a symbol of how the holidays have overrun Christmas and layered over the real Christmas." The "holidays" are a cover-up, drawing attention from the actual event.

Then it hit me. I am to go back to the manger, clear the snow off baby Jesus, and uncover him for the world to see.

I drove to the funeral home and parked. I put on my gloves, and grabbed my camera. There were two men shoveling the sidewalks. Because I'm still not perfectly secure in my missional activity, I wondered what these men might think of me. And, it's a fairly busy street corner. People might see me. They might recognize me as Redeemer's pastor. Some already think we're a crazy church, since we believe in demons, angels, healing, miracles, signs, and wonders. And in Jesus, who believed all those things, too.

I walked through the snow, stood before the manger, and bent low over it. Is there a baby beneath the snow? Yes - to my delight and joy - there he is! Jesus, uncovered. Jesus, revealed. Revelatione Jesu. O holy night! Joy to the world!

Merry Christmas, everyone.






Saturday, December 24, 2016

Violent Night (An Alternative Christmas Story)


Monroe

In Revelation 12:1-7 we have an alternative nativity story. Eugene Peterson writes:  “This is not the nativity story we grew up with, but it is the nativity story all the same.” (Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, 121)

This is why C.S. Lewis referred to the birth of Christ as an act of war. Christmas, said Lewis, is about "The Great Invasion." In chapter 7 of Mere Christianity he writes:

"One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe--a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin...  


Christianity agrees that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.

Enemy-occupied territory--that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage." 


Christmas Eve was the night before the Great Invasion. The creatures were stirring, even the mouse. We see this upheaval in the non-holiday telling of Christmas found in Revelation 12:1-7. It reads:

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

And there was war in heaven.

Robert Mounce says that: 

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

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

...the old man "Simeon took him [baby Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 

The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." 

Violent night

Holy night

All's not calm

All's not bright

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

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Preaching the Unrecognizable Jesus

Downtown Monroe

Pastors - stop trying to be "relevant." In the sense of being culturally cool, or socially awesome and acceptable. If it happens, you will swiftly become passé, swept aside by the nothing-new-under-the-sun, question-begging waves of culture.

Just be clear.

Be clear about the gospel.

The gospel, not you, has eternal relevance to the core, ontological struggle of humanity. 

Speak and teach and preach the gospel in words your culture understands. That will be enough for you to do. You won't need the blue jeans. Real prophets would never have worn them. (John the Baptist, concerned about "fitting in?")

Jesus was, and remains, shockingly a-cultural. Therefore be free of obsessing about your hair;. Remember Einstein, whose hair-care issues indicated neglect, but whose ideas started a scientific revolution.

The presentation of the gospel will sound strange and irrelevant to the indoctrinated cultural masses. That is good. It should sound this way. Think, perhaps, of the philosophical prophet Kierkegaard, and his historical precursor Tertullian, who both said, Credo quia absurdum, "I believe because it is absurd." 

A clear presentation of the gospel must be understandable, and part of its clarity is that it will be unrecognizable. It must sound silly, from the viewpoint of secular culture. The more you try to make the gospel relevant to culture, the more the gospel loses its unrecognizability. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (John 1:10)

Of course. Had the this-worldly masses recognized him, it would not have been him. They didn't. Not even his disciples.

Jesus' kingdom is not of this world. Not two thousand years ago, not today. The great danger is that people would begin to see the two conflicting kingdoms as the same kingdom (like the mindless conflating of "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas.")

People today need to come face to face with the unrecognizable Jesus, the one New Testament scholar Michael McClymond named the "Familiar Stranger." So pastors - preach, with as much clarity as you can bring to the moment, the unrecognizable kingdom.

Then, let it go.

Trust God's Spirit, who will hover over the irrelevance and the cognitive dissonance, and touch a nerve in dead flesh, ignite a spark on a cold night, send a drop to a desert, and speak hope to a nihilistic soul. Then behold as another insane mind, stuck in the meaningless eternal recurrence of the same, awakens, by the power of the Spirit, and hears the voice of redemption calling from another world.

***
Note: When the absurdity of the gospel reaches the low levels it had in first-century Rome, then I expect the gospel's intrinsic power to be unleashed in another global outpouring. In those days the world will have long-tired of the world-system and the futile way of life handed down from generation to generation, and the absurdity of the gospel will be clearly seen as the answer to systemic world-weariness.


***

My recent book of prayer is: Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.


Currently in process of writing - Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Day Your Reputation Died

Bolles Harbor, Lake Erie, Monroe

One of my struggles has been about what other people think of me. I have gone up and down, at times, with the evaluations of others, whether good or bad.

I believe I have a modicum of victory over this disease, but am not all the way home yet. I still have my moments of false security and insecurity.

I know where I need to land. It's on the foundation of my true identity, in Christ. When this is rock solid in my spirit, and I stand on the truth that I am fully loved no matter what, I can listen to the praise and blame of others without taking them on myself. In those times I am free, and love others more perfectly.

Scot McKnight writes:

"Sometimes the implication of listening to the voice of God is that we ruin our reputation in the public square. Loving God involves surrendering ourselves to God in heart, soul, mind, strength - and reputation. The minute we turn exclusively to the Lord to find our true identity is the day our reputation dies. We learn, as Thomas √† Kempis puts it. that when you surrender your reputation, "you won't care a fig for the waggles of ten thousand tongues."" (McKnight, in Rediscovering Advent, 25)

***

My recent book of prayer is: Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Monday, December 19, 2016

My Sermon on The Lord's Prayer - No. 3



You can listen to my third sermon on the Lord's prayer HERE.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.


***
To learn about our church go to our website - Redeemer Fellowship Church.


Breaking Free from Hotter-than-Thou-ness


Monroe

PERSONA - "A persona, in the word everyday usage, is a social role or a character played by an actor. This is an Italian word that derives from the Latin for "mask" or "character", derived from the Etruscan word "phersu", with the same meaning. Popular etymology derives the word from Latin "per" meaning "through" and "sonare" meaning "to sound", meaning something in the vein of "that through which the actor speaks", i.e. a mask (early Greek actors wore masks)." (Wikipedia, "Persona")

AKA - the false self; "hypocrite" ("mask-wearer"); fake; phony

PERSON - the real self; who you really are; the "true self," made in the image of God

About thirty-five years ago I was sitting on the seat of a rusty tractor in the middle of a field in a wildlife area just north of Lansing, Michigan. I went there to pray. For several hours. That was one of the first times I did this kind of extended praying. It turned out to be the beginning of an inner revolution.

I was reading Psalm 139. I got to verses 23-24, which read:

"Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting."

The thought came that I should ask God to do this. My heart was anxious and restless. All the busy stuff I was doing only seemed to increase my inner agitation. My heart was troubled. So I said to God, "Do it." God told me, "John, I would love to do this. You need to spend much time with me, over a lifetime, so I can search you out, remove your anxious thoughts, and lead you in the way everlasting."

The first thing God told me that day was, "John, you can take off the mask." The thought of wearing a mask before God struck me as silly. Wearing a mask in front of others seemed weird. 

Wearing masks before God and others is hard work. I did some acting in my college theatre department, and I know it takes a lot out of a person. So, before God, I allowed him to peel away the persona. God told me, "John, I don't care for the mask; it is you that I love."

It was both hard and good to hear God say those words to me. It was hard because my persona was something I was accustomed to. To remove the mask was to enter into new territory. It produced, intially, feelings of wanting to hide from God. I know I can't hide from God. Yet I wanted to. This was hard. It was also good. Looking into the face of my all-loving God, with hidden parts of me exposed, was fear-and-trembling good! It still feels unbelievable. God knows me, God searches me out, God sees to the root of my being, God knows my true heart. And God loves me? Unbelievable, yet true.

When we wear our persona-mask before people we lie to them. In our inner insecurity and unlovableness we posture before people. We brag. We create and display our persona on Facebook. We are pity-filled. We crave human approval, and fear disapproval. We want others to recognize our hotness. We want to be hotter than thou.

This thing gets subtle, as I know personally. At times my caring for others has been a mask that hides my need for them to approve of and value me. True personhood, on the other hand, cares and loves others whether one benefits from this or not.

That... is freedom. To know God and be known by him. To love God and experience God's love towards us, personally. This is not some theoretical thing, but an experiential reality. In this regard experience, not theory, breeds conviction.

You are loved by God. Go to him.

Ask God to search out your heart, remove the persona, and transform you into the person he has created you to be. Which is: in his image.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Eight Books by Henri Nouwen in One Volume

















Eight of Henri Nouwen's books are now available in one volume - The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles by Henri Nouwen.

Only $12.99 for your Kindle.

  • Intimacy
  • A Letter of Consolation
  • Letters to Marc About Jesus
  • The Living Reminder
  • Making All Things New
  • Our Greatest Gift
  • Way of the Heart
  • Gracias



The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles by Henri Nouwen by [Nouwen, Henri J. M.]


Christmas: How God Rescued the Human Heart

Bolles Harbor, Monroe



As I was standing in the funeral home after the funeral an elderly man came up and shook my hand. "Very good job," he said, with a large smile.

Thank you.

"Of course," he added, "I forgot to put in my hearing aid, and didn't hear a word you said."

He was smiling as he told me this. I smiled and thanked him for the compliment.

Please put your hearing aid in, because God has something he wants to say that, if you are a Jesus-follower, will focus you during the American secularized "holidays." The mission of Jesus is to captivate and capture and heal human hearts. 

It will help to understand this word “heart,” used over 300 times in the Bible.

The heart is that spiritual part of you where your emotions and desires dwell. The “heart” is a metaphor for the location of your most basic orientation, your deepest commitments. “Heart” concerns what you trust the most. Trust in the Lord with all your heart.

The biblical metaphorical heart concerns what we most love and hope in, what we most treasure, what captures our imagination. Jesus said, Where you find your treasure, there you will find your heart.

The “heart” has to do with inclination and orientation. Like – Do you have a heart for jazz music? Or – Do you have a heart for the little girls in Bangkok caught up in sex trafficking?

Your heart has an inclination (Genesis 6:5), something it leans towards. The orientation of your heart controls everything — your thinking, feeling, decisions, and actions – like the incline of a mountain controls the flow of water.

“Heart” is what you most love and, therefore, find most reasonable, desirable, and doable.
The "heart" is the core of a person.

No wonder Jesus is so concerned about our hearts. No wonder God sees outward actions as manifestations of the heart. Because if you can change a human heart, you can change their outward behaviors. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
People look at selfies; God looks at souls. God looks at orientation and inclination. God looks at what we cherish. Because whatever we most cherish in our heart controls the whole person.

In this sense God has a heart. God has emotions and desires. God has purposes and motives and a rock-solid orientation. Therefore, God can be said to have a “heart.” And David can be called a man “after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). This means David's purposes, motives, and inclinations inclined to God. The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. (Psalm 33:11)

God’s heart inclines towards his creation. Especially you. And me. YOU are on God’s heart… right now… as you read these words. Like a loving parent has their children often on their heart, so also God is captivated by you.

God awaits a response, from you. God wants your heart to be captivated by him, to look to him, to love and trust him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. (Isaiah 40:11) This is why it grieves the heart of God when one of his children gets disoriented and jumps out of his arms (Genesis 6:6).

God created you. You have been fashioned in God’s image. God has a heart. Therefore, you have a heart.

God made you to have the kind of heart he has. To share His orientation, his motives, his inclinations, his desires, and to cherish what he cherishes. To accomplish this God has planted seeds of his thoughts and ideas and truths in your heart.

In every heart there is a longing for God. I call this the primal metaphysical impulse, the ontological desire for something more, for the transcendent. I see it in the college students in my classes. They want to talk about the Big Questions of life. I see in them a basic longing for more than mere materiality, for more than what the media can give them. OK… but what if they are an atheist? No matter – I see it in them, too. As atheist Julian Barnes wrote at the beginning of Nothing to Be Frightened Of, “I don’t believe in God. But I miss him.”

Correct. Because God has made everyone in his image, which essentially means: with his heart.
Linda, Josh, and I were driving home from seeing a movie in Toledo. It was a beautiful, clear, starry night. I heard the Perseid meteor shower was peaking. I asked Linda and Josh if we could drive to Bolles Harbor on Lake Erie and look for meteors. It was almost midnight when we pulled in. I turned off the car, and we sat in black silence.

We saw five meteors that night. I thought about God, because God made this vast universe, as well as the inclination of my heart to attribute it to him.
What may be known about God is plain to [us] them, because God has made it plain to [us] 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. (Romans 1:19-20)

God has also placed – deep within every human heart – a basic sense of right and wrong. I see this when I teach my logic classes. One section of the class is on applying formal and informal logic to ethical systems. I take my dry erase marker and write this sentence on the white board: It is wrong to rape little girls for fun. And behold! The moral law manifests itself in every student's heart. Yes, it is really, objectively, wrong to do that.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, called this the “key to the meaning of the universe”; viz., the existence of objective moral values. Lewis wrote an entire book dedicated to this – The Abolition of Man – where he discovers the Golden Rule in all cultures big and small. (My friend William Lane Craig presents his metaethical argument for God’s existence, using as an evidential premise the statement Objective moral values and duties exist.)

14 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. (Romans 2:14)

Is this relevant today? Well, “Star Wars” is culturally relevant. "Rogue One" begins showing tonight. Millions will descend upon theatres across the world and see, again, a battle between good and evil, between light and darkness. When George Lucas was interviewed by Charlie Rose he explained:

“It’s about good and evil, but heroes — what makes a hero, what’s friendship, what’s the idea of sacrificing yourself for something larger? They’re all really basic things, you might say you don’t have to make a movie about that [because] it’s very obvious, but it’s actually not. It’s not that obvious to a lot of people…”

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psalm 84:2)

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. (Psalm 16:7)

Your heart is a hard drive containing the software of God’s moral code, humming and teaching you even while you sleep. In his amazing book Addiction and Grace clinical psychiatrist Dr. Gerald May, wrote:

“After twenty years of listening to the yearnings of people’s hearts, I am convinced that human beings have an inborn desire for God. Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and most precious treasure.”

God has placed His treasures, the things he cherishes, how he is oriented, how He is wired, in every human heart. In your heart, too. Therefore, guard this.

Don’t give your heart to just anything!

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.  (Proverbs 4:23)

This is the most important thing about you. Guard your true orientation. Guard the metaphysical impulse. Protect what you were made for and inclined to go after. Because from the heart, actions come. Here is the order:

First, your heart.

Second, what you do. 
Your orientation; your inclinations; your motives; your passions; what you worship… such things determine what we do.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart. (Proverbs 27:19)

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45)

Christmas is the story of how God came to rescue and redeem that which was made in his image. He comes to give you himself, to fill your heart with all the fullness of Christ. When that happens, as it has happened to me and perhaps you as well, O come let us adore him is our natural response.