Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On the Existence of the Water Walking Jesus

Maumee Bay State Park (Ohio)
In response to my recent "Flat-earthing After the Non-Existent Jesus" T.W. asks: "Just out of curiosity, can you point me in the direction of any hard concrete evidence that the miracle performing, water walking, Jesus of Nazareth really did exist?"

Yes. First, I'll point in a direction. Second, I'll say a brief word about water-walking. Third, a sentence about "hard, concrete evidence."


I suggest reading The Jesus Legend, The: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, by Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy. The mythicist position on the historical Jesus (the "legendary Jesus thesis) is sufficiently refuted here. 

I also strongly suggest Craig Keener's The Historical Jesus of the Gospels.

More briefly, Princeton's James Charlesworth's  The Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide.  

And Richard Bauckham's Jesus: A Very Short Introduction.  And Bauckham's brilliant Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.  

See also some posts I've made along the way:

Is the Jesus-Story a Legend?

The Historical Existence of Jesus of Nazareth

Bart Ehrman - No Serious Scholar Doubts that Jesus Actually Existed

Did Jesus Actually Exist?

N. T. Wright on Jesus' Existence

Ehrman: Only "Internet Kooks" Think Jesus Never Existed

Bart Ehrman On the Mythicist Myth That Jesus Never Existed


On Water Walking

I recommend Craig Keener's brilliant, recent, and massive two-volume Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. Here, among other things, Keener debunks the Humean idea of the impossibility of miraculous events. This is important since Hume's philosophy largely informs the anti-supernaturalist's worldview. But Hume's philosophy is logically incoherent. Thus the historian can approach historical documents such as the Bible free of a pre-existing (and mostly unexamined) bias against the supernatural or miraculous. Hence, the historical possibility of water walking.

As for myself, I have read all the texts (and many more) that I've cited, plus I've read Hume and (arguably) all or most of the relevant texts against the logical possibility and then historicity of the miracle performing, historical Jesus. That is the direction I suggest if one wants to enter into this discussion, at least on an academic, non-googling level.

"Hard, concrete evidence"

All historical reasoning is inductive.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Flat-earthing After the Non-Existent Jesus

Here's New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado writing, briefly, on why he's uninterested in the Google-quest to prove that Jesus never existed. (And following Bart Ehrman on the same.)

"Another reason for feeling it less than necessary to spend a lot of time on the matter is that all the skeptical arguments have been made and effectively engaged many decades ago. Before posting this, I spent a bit of time perusing my copy of H. G. Wood, Did Christ Really Live?, which was published in 1938. In it, Wood cites various figures of the early 20th century who had claimed that Jesus of Nazareth was a fiction, and patiently and cordially engages the specifics of evidence and argument, showing that the attacks fail.
So in one sense I think I’m not alone in feeling that to show the ill-informed and illogical nature of the current wave of “mythicist” proponents is a bit like having to demonstrate that the earth isn’t flat, or that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, or that the moon-landings weren’t done on a movie lot."

Logic & Philosophy of Religion at MCCC

This Thursday I begin my 13th (or 14th?) year of teaching philosophy at Monroe County Community College. I'll have 90 students in three classes - two Intro to Logic classes, and one Philosophy of Religion class. I love teaching these classes! My enthusiasm for them, and for the students who will be in my class, has not diminished.

Here are the abbreviated syllabi for the courses.


Course Description:  The study of the philosophy of religion concerns philosophical ideas and concepts that are brought to bear on religious issues. The purposes of this course include:
1)      To introduce the student to basic issues in the academic discipline of the philosophy of religion.
2)      To enable the student first of all to understand these issues and then, secondly, to enable the student to evaluate the issues.
3)      To engage the student in dialogue about major issues in the philosophy of religion.
4)      Students will have learned some new ways of thinking about some of life’s most important issues.

 Required Text: Philosophyof Religion: Selected Readings (4th edition), by Peterson, Hasker, et. al.
Grading Procedure:
Grades will be determined using the following guidelines:

Students will be evaluated on the basis of:

v  Three 10-minute personal interviews

§  Students will know in advance the questions they may be asked

§  These interviews will be given, approximately:

·         Mid-late September

·         Late October

·         The last week of class

v  Class attendance and participation

§  Non-attendance will not be penalized.

§  Students who miss more than one class per grading period may NOT attend the exam review.

§  Perfect attendance can raise a marginal grade. If a student has less than excellent attendance then a marginal grade will not be raised. For example, a student who chooses not to attend all the time and receives two “Bs” and one “C” will receive a “C” in the class. The same student, with perfect attendance, though the three grades average less than a 3.0, may receive a 3.0 (“B”) for the class.

v  Understanding:

§  E – 0 points - no understanding of the material

§  D – 1 point - poor understanding of the material

§  C – 2 points - Can give the correct answers

§  B – 3 points - Can give the correct answers with evidence of understanding the material

§  A – 4 points - Gives the correct answers, understand the material, and is able to reflect on the material

Specific Course Rules:

  • No use of laptops in class; No cell phones; no texting

Methods of Instruction:

  • The material we will look at is difficult to understand for students who have no background in academic philosophy. In the class presentations the material will be explained, and questions and comments will be encouraged.
  • The material will be constantly repeated.
  • Oral exams best demonstrate the students’ comprehension of the material.

Course Objectives:

This course will:

  1. Give students an overview of some of the major areas in the philosophy of religion.
  2. Students will grow in their critical thinking skills.
  3. Students will have an opportunity to discuss some of life’s most important questions.

Student Learning Outcomes:

Students will:

  1. Understand 18-24 arguments related to the philosophy of religion.
  2. Grow in their ability and confidence to orally present these arguments.
  3. Grow in critical thinking ability.
  4. Be given a philosophical template from which to evaluate their own worldviews.


Tentative Assignment Calendar


First third of semester
SECTION 1 – Arguments for the Existence of God
  • Anselm’s Ontological Argument for God’s Existence
  • Gaunilo’s criticism of Anselm’s OA
  • Kant’s criticism of the OA; Malcolm’s counter-response
  • The Kalam Cosmological Argument for God’s Existence
  • The Fine-tuning Argument for God’s Existence
Assigned readings from the book; from handouts
Second third of semester
SECTION 2 – The argument from Evil Against the Existence of God
  • Mackie’s Logical Argument from Evil against God’s Existence
  • Plantinga’s Free Will Defense (and refutation of Mackie)
  • Rowe’s Evidential Argument from Evil against God’s existence
  • Wyckstra’s criticism of Rowe
  • Hick’s Soul-Making Theodicy
Assigned readings: from book; from handouts.
Third part of semester
SECTION 3 – Misc. arguments in the philosophy of religion
  • Nietzsche – the logic of atheism – The Parable of the Madman
  • Russell – The logic of atheism – A Free Man’s Worship
  • Gould - NOMA
  • Craig’s Moral Argument for God’s Existence
  • Plantinga – belief in God as properly basic
From the book; from handouts

Disclaimer: “The instructor reserves the right to amend this syllabus as deemed necessary and will communicate such amendment to the students in the course.”



Course Description:  This course concerns making arguments and evaluating arguments. Logic is the area of philosophy that evaluates arguments. Philosophers are interested in issues concerning meaning and truth. A major way to arrive at truth is by using logic. Persons make arguments to explain or persuade or convince others of the truth of some statement. The philosopher then asks – is the argument “logical?” If the argument is not logical, then it need not be believed.

Required Text: ThePower of Critical Thinking: Effective Reasoning about Ordinary andExtraordinary Claims (3rd Edition), by Lewis Vaughn

Grading Procedure:

Grades will be determined using the following guidelines:

·         Six in-class exams

·         90-100 = A; 80-89 = B; 70-79 = C; 60-69 = D; below 60 = Fail

·         Exam #1 will be on Vaughn Ch. 1 – “The Power of Critical Thinking”

·         Exam #2 will be on Vaughn Ch. 2 – “Obstacles to Critical Thinking”

·         Exam #3 will be on Vaughn Ch. 3 – “Making Sense of Arguments”

·         Exam #4 will be on  – Symbolic Logic (We will not use Vaughn here.)

·         Exam #5 will be on Vaughn Ch. 4 – “Reasons for Belief and Doubt”

·         Exam #6 will be on Vaugn, Ch. 5 - “Faulty Reasoning” (on informal logical fallacies)

·         Attendance and participation

·         Excellent attendance and participation may raise a borderline grade to the next level.

·         Students will not be penalized for non-attendance.

·         Students who do not have excellent attendance will not be allowed to make up an exam they have missed. Students who have excellent attendance may be allowed to make up an exam they have missed with the instructor’s permission.

·         Perfect attendance can raise a marginal grade. If a student has less than excellent attendance then a marginal grade will not be raised. For example, a student who chooses not to attend all the time and receives two “80s” and one “79” will receive a “C” in the class. The same student, with perfect attendance, though the three grades average less than an 80, may receive an 80 (“B”) for the class.

Specific Course Rules:

  • No use of laptops in class
  • No cell phones; no texting

Methods of Instruction:

  • The textbook will definitely be used
    • I will explain – in detail – the relevant sections of the textbook
    • Doing the exercises in the textbook will definitely help you learn the material
    • Doing the “Integrative Exercises” at the end of each section will help you prepare for the exam.
  • I will treat this course as a true “introduction
    • Thus I will assume no one knows anything about logic and begin from there
  • We will do in-class logic exercises, all of which are relevant to the exams
  • I will let you know exactly the kind of questions that will be on the exam.
  • I will present periodic logical arguments on what I hope will be interesting and even controversial topics
    • In presenting my arguments I will refer to and utilize principles of logic
    • I invite disagreement with my arguments
    • I will challenge disagreement – hopefully logically so
    • And, I will probably be challenged and learn from the process
  • The 6 exams are part of the learning experience
    • You will know exactly what kind of questions will be on the exams
    • This focuses your study so that you study exactly what I want you to learn
  • Note: Exam #4 is the most math-oriented section
  • A NOTE ON LOGIC: What we will do in preparation for exam #5 strengthens analytic reasoning ability. “Logic” is hard-wired into the human brain. These exercises build and strengthen neural connections that have to do with analytic ability.

Course Objectives:

  1. Presentation of basic concepts of logical thinking.
  2. Demonstration, in argumentation using logical thinking, of various arguments.

Student Learning Outcomes:

  1. Students will grow in their critical thinking skills.
  2. Students will learn to formulate and evaluate arguments as to their reasonableness.
  3. Students will have an opportunity to use their critical thinking skills to discuss some of life’s most important questions.
Disclaimer: “The instructor reserves the right to amend this syllabus as deemed necessary and will communicate such amendment to the students in the course.”

Humility, Charity, Patience, and Chastity

Queen Anne's Lace
N.T. Wright, in After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, identifies four cardinal virtues that characterize actual followers of Jesus. They are: humility, charity, patience, and chastity. This "composite of virtues" is what True Humanity looks like, and Jesus, among other things, exemplifies such humanity. Jesus-followers are to look like Jesus, just as a disciple is to look like his mentor, as a student looks like his teacher.

Wright writes:

"It is thus more or less impossible to speak of God with any conviction or effect if those who profess to follow Jesus are not exemplifying humility, charity, patience, and chastity. These are not optional extras for the especially keen, but the very clothes which the royal priesthood must “put on” day by day. If the vocation of the royal priesthood is to reflect God to the world and the world back to God (the world, that is, as it was made to be and as, by God’s grace, it will be one day), that vocation must be sustained, and can only be sustained, by serious attention to “putting on” these virtues, not for the sake of a self-centered holiness or pride in one’s own moral achievement, but for the sake of revealing to the world who its true God really is." (p. 247)

Forget speaking of God to others if your heart is proud, miserly, irritable, and perverted. Obviously Jesus hasn't made an impact on such a person's life, so why would anyone listen to them, about anything? Christian character matters, not as a means to gaining God's acceptance, but as marks of real, transforming Christianity.

The Jesus-follower who follows Jesus into his ever-presence will inexorably be morphed into a humble person who is free from the need for self-congratulation and self-adulation, into a loving person whose heart's modus operandi is dialed into the needs of others, into a person who can wait because their heart has great enduring staying power, and into a pure thing whose sexual desires have been freed from the objectification of others.

All of this is, contrary to our kingdom of darkness culture, massively counter-intuitive. It is the road to freedom, and people truly free in Jesus are possessing these interior qualities.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Rescue & the Redemptive Moment

This morning I'm thinking on the beautiful words of Colossians 1:13-14 - 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

It's easy, and important, for me to personalize this to: 13 For he has rescued me from the dominion of darkness and brought me into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom I have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Nothing is more relevant to me than this. These words, these concepts, sum life up, for me.

I needed rescue. I remember being 21 years old and standing on a stage somewhere in Illinois. I was playing guitar in a band. I was a drug user, alcohol abuser, and practical misogynist (I self-centeredly mistreated women). That night, while performing, the thought came to me: "I am screwed up." I was in a very dark place.

I later realized this was yet another attempt, on God's behalf, to rescue me. This time, it worked. A few weeks after this, while walking from my apartment onto the campus of Northern Illinois University, I prayed: "God, if you are real and can save me, I will follow you all the days of my life."

*Redemption - the act of taking a lemon and making lemonade.

I have been redeemed. I get to preach this coming Sunday at Redeemer about the rescue and the redemption.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

More On the Limits of Science

Downtown Monroe
I was introduced to the philsosophy of science in 1971. Harold I. Brown was my teacher. Dr. Brown was a brilliant philosopher who was thoroughly familiar with the history of science, scientific issues, and logical extensions or the lack thereof re. scientific discoveries and theories. (See here, and here.) I was interested in science (I'd begun as an undergraduate majoring in engineering, and on my conversion to Christian theism changed my major to philosophy). Dr. Brown had a major influence on me.

One of the things I learned was how to distinguish scientific claims from metaphysical claims, especially concerning the limits of science. Science, Dr. Brown (and a bazillion other scholars) know, has its limits! Unfortunately, there are today a bazillion bazillion "Google scholars" who don't understand this. So...  one more time.

Oxford mathematician and philosopher of science John Lennox cites Nobel Laureate Peter Medawar and biologist Francis Collins (former head of the Human Genome Project).

Medawar says: “The existence of a limit to science is, however, made clear by its inability to answer childlike elementary questions having to do with first and last things – questions such as: ‘How did everything begin?’ ‘What are we all here for?’ ‘What is the point of living?’” Medawar adds that we must turn to imaginative literature and religion for the answers to such questions. John Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking, Kindle Locations 168-171)

Collins writes: “Science is powerless to answer questions such as ‘Why did the universe come into being?’ ‘What is the meaning of human existence?’ ‘What happens after we die?’” (In Ib.)

Einstein knew, for example, that one cannot get morality out of science. He said: "You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn round and speak of the scientific foundations of morality.” (Ib.) “Every attempt to reduce ethics to scientific formulae must fail”. (Ib., Kindle Locations 181-183)

Outrageously famous and brilliant Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman writes: “Even the greatest forces and abilities don’t seem to carry any clear instructions on how to use them. As an example, the great accumulation of understanding as to how the physical world behaves only convinces one that this behaviour has a kind of meaninglessness about it. The sciences do not directly teach good or bad....  [E]thical values lie outside the scientific realm”. (Ib., Kindle Locations 184-188)

Let all scientistic Googlers take note: "ought" cannot be inferred from "is."

Science Cannot Answer All the Questions Worth Asking

Downtown Monroe

Today I kindled John Lennox's book God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway? I got it for only $4.76. Not bad. Here is a great scholar debunking Hawking's philosophical inferences re. the non-existence of God. (Lennox is Prof. of Mathematics, and Philosophy of Science, at Oxford U.)

I remember reading Hawking's The Grand Design and getting only a few paragraphs into the book when he wrote that "philosophy is dead [because] it has not kept up with the modern developments in science." I thought - how absurd! I'm sure the University of Michigan's world-class philosophy department has begun to shut down as a result of reading Hawking!

Lennox points out that Hawking's claim that philosophy is dead is not itself a scientific claim but a philsoophical, viz. metaphysical, claim. Lennox writes: "Hawking himself, has not even kept up with philosophy sufficiently to realize that he himself is engaging in it throughout his book. The very first thing I notice is that Hawking’s statement about philosophy is itself a philosophical statement. It is manifestly not a statement of science: it is a metaphysical statement about science. Therefore, his statement that philosophy is dead contradicts itself. It is a classic example of logical incoherence." (Kindle Locations 145-149)

But of course. This sad beginning to Hawking's book put a lot of us on guard as we read through it. If Hawking was that casually non-scholarly in his pronouncement of the death of philosophy, we should be concerned should he pronounce the death of anything, to include God.

Lennox points out that Einstein understood the role of and need for and inextricable essentialness of philosophy. Einstein wrote:

"I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today, and even professional scientists, seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is, in my opinion, the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth." (In Lennox, Kindle Locations 154-156). 

Hawking's idea that science is the source of all truth is itself non-scientific, and "smacks of scientism." Lennox writes:

"For any scientist, let alone a science superstar, to disparage philosophy on the one hand, and then at once to adopt a self-contradictory philosophical stance on the other, is not the wisest thing to do – especially at the beginning of a book that is designed to be convincing." (Kindle Locations 160-162)

Lennox quotes Nobel Laureate Peter Medawar:

"There is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit upon himself and upon his profession than roundly to declare – particularly when no declaration of any kind is called for – that science knows, or soon will know, the answers to all questions worth asking, and that questions which do not admit a scientific answer are in some way non-questions or “pseudo-questions” that only simpletons ask and only the gullible profess to be able to answer." (Kindle Locations 164-167)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Redeemer Newcomers Picnic at My House This Sunday

Linda and I and other Redeemer family members are hosting a picnic for persons who've been coming to Redeemer for two years or less.

This Sunday, Aug. 26.

6 PM.

If that's you - please join us for an informal time of eating together and getting to know one another.

Called to See the World as God Sees It

Ann Arbor

On my Top Ten List of books that have influenced me spiritually is Thomas Kelly's A Testament of Devotion. I underlined so much of it that a friend, seeing this, said "You should have just spray-painted the pages."

Kelly regularly prayed, "God, help me to see earth, through heaven." That is, give me eyes to see this world, with all its people and events and relationships, as You see it. Grant me vision that sees sub specie aeternitatis.

I have found that this kind of seeing develops out of years of connecting with God in prayer. I continue to carve out large temporal spaces in my life to get alone with God and pray. (Prayer is: talking with God about what He and I are doing together.) I want to see things and people through the loving, redemptive lens of God. To see things otherwise, writes Henri Nouwen, is to see falsely.

Nouwen says:

"Spiritully, we are in God, in the Lord, at home in God. Our true identity is thst we are God's children. It is from that perspective - from God's perspective - that we perceive the world. We are called to see the world as God sees it; that is what theology is all about. Therefore, we are continually diagnosing the illusory quality of anything outside this perspective."
- Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 60

Thursday, August 23, 2012

21 Marks of a Presence-Driven Church


I really like Larry Keefauver's article in Ministry Today - "His Presence: The Key to Church Growth." (Thank you Jeff Dieselberg for pointing me to this.)

Using Acts 1&2, and DNA as an example, Keefauver identifies 21 "genes" of a Presence-Driven Church. He writes:

These genes mark the church growing in the Spirit for our times. Each gene identified is evidenced in Acts 1-2. The 21 marks of the presence-driven church are:
1. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Not just a touch, but total immersion in the Spirit.
2. Holy Spirit power. Not just any power, but authoritative power that works miracles.
3. Expectation of Jesus' return. Not just lip service about His presence, but an expectation of His return.
4. One-accord unity. Not just a superficial consensus, but an indivisible covenant.
5. Prayer and supplication. Not just vain repetitions, but intercession with groanings that cannot be uttered.
6. Apostolic leadership. Not just leadership within a local body, but bold leadership for the church in a city or region.
7. Filled with the Spirit. Not just led by the Spirit, but driven and empowered by the Spirit.
8. Tongues with Spirit utterance. Not just a loud cacophony, but a river of language flowing under the Spirit's guidance, accomplishing seemingly impossible spiritual breakthroughs and massive conversions.
9. Signs and wonders. Not just to impress the saved, but to witness to the lost.
10. Prophetic witness. Not ministering the prophetic to the saved, but releasing the prophetic to persuade the lost.
11. Bold proclamation and preaching. Not just preaching to the choir, but proclamation from the Word with boldness to please God, not to tickle human ears.
12. Exalting Jesus. Not just a motivational message, but an exaltation and passionate adoration of Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Lord.
13. Repentance with water baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Not just transfer growth, but true conversion with spiritual babies being born frequently.
14. Many being saved daily. Not just rededications, but the lost daily being snatched from hell by the Good Shepherd through bold, unashamed witnessing. Not just adding to the church, but moving into multiplication (see Acts 6:7).
15. Sound doctrine. Not just teaching for knowledge, but for impartation and equipping the saints to do the work of ministry.
16. Fellowship. Not just meeting as strangers in a service, but body ministry one to another.
17. Breaking of bread. Not just a ritual of the Lord's Supper, but a deep communion partaking of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus.
18. Holy fear of God. Not just reverence and respect, but a holy fear akin to the fear that moved Noah to build an ark of salvation for his whole household.
19. Faith together. Not just faith trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord, but faith together to hear the incredible, see the invisible and do the impossible together as His body.
20. Sharing to meet needs. Not just a benevolence fund, but a substantial sharing that could meet the deepest physical needs of people.
21. Joyful gladness, simplicity, favor and praise. Not just a warm, fuzzy feeling generated by a great service, but a simple, heartfelt joy that praises God no matter what the circumstance.

Jesus Followers Are Forever Focused

Beneath a RR bridge on the River Raisin

Who, really, is a "Christian?" While it's not for us to judge in a final sense, we are given indicators. Jesus tells us that simply because a person says "Lord, Lord," it does not follow that they follow Jesus as Lord. Just because someone regularly gathers with the Church doesn't mean they are "church."

George Barna estimates there are 77 million “church-going ‘Christians’” in America. Sam Storms takes issue with this...
“… because the Scriptures tell me in no uncertain terms that genuine, saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus is transforming and life-changing and sin-killing and Christ-exalting in its effects.  I fear countless people are living a religious charade, having been assured by undoubtedly well-meaning ministers that their "decision" for Jesus was unto eternal life in spite of the fact that there is little if any spiritual fruit in their experience. (The Hope Of Glory: 100 Daily Meditations on Colossians, p. 54)

A real Jesus-follower is a true Jesus-lover. I have seen this happen in many people. Their lives are transformed, and remain in an ongoing process of metamorphing into Christlikeness. Their desires change, not as a result of striving and will power, but because of a compelling, sacrificial love and power that now resides within them. Such people are focused, not for a few days or months, but forever. Jesus-followers are forever focused. Christ's love compels them.

Henri Nouwen expresses it this way:

"We can say that persons reborn in the Spirit are characterized by their single-mindedness. They have only one desire: to do God's will in all things, or - to put it in Jesus' words to Nicodemus - to "do the truth" and thus "to come into the light so that what they are doing may plainly appear as done in God" (John 3:21). They are so caught up in God's love that everything else can only receive its meaning and purpose in the context of that love. They ask only one question: 'What is pleasing to the Spirit of God?' And as soon as they have heard the sound of the Spirit, they follow its promptings even when it upsets their friends, disturbs their environment, and confuses their admirers. They believe unhesitatingly in Jesus, the Son of God, who was sent into the world 'not to judge the world, but so that through him the world might be saved' (John 3:17). Their faith is so deeply rooted that they are unafraid - not only of other people's opinions, but even of God's judgments, because their rebirth has brought them into the light." (Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 62-63)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Study Spiritual Formation With Me This Fall

I'm teaching my Spiritual Formation class this fall in Redeemer Ministry School.
Tuesdays, 9:30 - 1.
This is an 11-week class.
First class is Tuesday, September 18.
Cost: $150.

Register by sending me an e-mail:

Colossians 1:12 This Sunday at Redeemer

Our back yard, by the river

This coming Sunday at Redeemer I'll preach on Colossians 1:12 - giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

This sentence is nested in the intercessory prayer of Paul, writing in prison 120 miles from the Jesus-followers in Colossae whom he has heard of but never met.

Part of my message will include defining terms. I'll use socio-rhetorical and socio-cultural commnetaries to do this. Note: I will not use Webster's dictionary. No biblical scholar does, for the obvious reason that Webster gives us definitions in terms of current American culture. While at times current meanings are similar to ancient meanings or retain echoes of ancient meanings, often they are not the same.

I'll define:
  • Joy - Greek  εὐχαριστοῦντες - eucharistountes - thankfulness, gratefulness, blessedness
  • Qualified; qualification
  • Inheritance
  • Holy
  • Holy people
  • Kingdom of light - stressing the importance of biblical 2-kingdom theology; kingdom of light vs. kingdom of darkness
These contextual word studies will bring out the relevance and power of what Paul is praying.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Basic Leadership Question of the Presence-Driven Church

RR bridge over the RR (River Raisin) in Monroe
The primary, foundational, primordial question of all leadership is: What does God want? At Redeemer we are always asking that question at our leadership meetings.

The basic question is not: What do you want? Nor is it: What do you think? Those are secondary questions, which only come into play when formulated as: What do you think God wants? What do you think God is saying? The core issue is not what you or I think, but what God thinks and is saying.

Some of my readers are atheists (thank you!). I believe even an atheist would concur with my reasoning, on the condition that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving personal Agent exists; viz. that, given such a God, leaders will do best if they seek His will in the first place. Not to do so, in a church, is to acquiesce to a practical atheism. (This applies to all organizations and movements.)

This applies whether or not your church is in a crisis. But if it is crisis-time, keep focused on the basic question, which is: God, what are you now saying to us? God, what do you want us to hear, see, and then do?

To ask these questions will only be meaningful if your church contains leaders and people who: 1) live dwelling lives in Christ; 2) have actual prayer lives (i.e., they actually have time to pray); and 3) hear from God. Sadly, there are self-made churches out there with self-made leaders who, when in crisis, only have their own selves to depend on. That is a formula for catastrophe.

Clarity and direction is found in the presence of God. God's presence is the place where, ultimately if not entirely in this life, all questions find their answers. That is the arena where God builds his kingdom, and unless God is The Builder we strive in vain. Unless God leads the way we march on, directionless.

I am thankful for a people and leaders who cultivate the ongoing God-relationship and prize most highly the experiential reality of God's presence, to include frequently hearing his voice and gaining, among other things, his counsel on things.

A Week of Intercessory Prayer

Cabbage white butterfly

This coming Sunday's message at Redeemer (8/26/12) is on Colossians 1:12 - giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

Just one verse! This verse is in the middle of Paul's intercessory prayer for the Colossian Jesus-followers.

Right now at Redeemer we're teaching on intercessory prayer as: bringing people into the intersection of heaven and earth. This Sunday I'll review Paul's core prayer of intercession (Col. 1:9-11) and preach on inheritance, holiness, and the kingdom of God. As I preach on these things I live with the expectation that God will show up in power.

Many of you have people you are praying for. I suggest that this week you write down Colossians 1:9-14 on a 3X5 card and carry it with you. Pray for people this way.

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,
10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,
11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,
12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Multitasking Inhibits Full Presence

On my first date with Linda I monotasked. Not multitasked. I suppose I could have invited her to be with me while I did five other things concurrently. Had that been the case I doubt she would have been interested in me.

Multitasking has its place, but that place is not the strengthening of human relationships. Generally, multitasking weakens relationships as it spreads oneself too thin over many things. I can assure you that, on that first date with Linda, my heart, soul, mind, and strength were locked onto her, and nervously and hopefully, I might add.

Richard Foster writes: "My pattern [when being with people] is always to be as fully present as possible to the people and activities of the moment. When I travel there is no multitasking for me. No cell phone calls. No extraneous interviews. No catching up on e-mail. No laptop computer work in between events. All my energies are focused on the present moment and the precious people filling those moments." (Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, Kindle Locations 950-952)

Multitasking inhibits full presence, with people, and with God. Full presence is the experiential place where glory is revealed. When fully present to people and places, you will see things you've never seen before. This concerns "really seeing." In photography, people speak of "having a good eye."

Learn to love God this way. Develpp a good eye for God. Put down the cell phone, lay aside the laptop, step into God's creation, and behold the beauty of the Lord.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What Matters Is Simply God (All the Rest Is Pure Stupidity)

Thomas Merton wrote, in his journal:

"What matters is not spirituality, not religion, not perfection, not success or failure at this or that, but simply God, and freedom in His Spirit. All the rest is pure stupidity."
- Aug. 28, 1965; in A Year with Thomas Merton, Kindle Locations 4109-4110

I agree. With a qualification. If spirituality or success is the fruit of one's monotasked God-relationship, then such God-produced spirituality or success is not stupid.

We could substitute for "stupidity" the word "vanity." All "without God" religious activity and success is in vain because it is purposeless.

OK. But what if there is no God at all? Then all of life, religion, spirituality, success, and so on, is stupid. We could borrow from French atheistic existentialism and substitute for "stupidity" the word "absurd." With God, life is absurd, pointless, purposeless. But God does exist. So living life without God is absurd, pointless, purposeless, vain, and stupid.