Thursday, January 31, 2013

Archaeological Evidence About the Historical Jesus

Monroe County

I told Linda, after visiting Israel, that in another life I am going to be an archaeologist. One of my Christmas presents was ancient historian and New Testament scholar Craig Evans's Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence. Evans is a superb scholar and, among other things, a leading authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I strongly recommend this to anyone who wants to do serious historical Jesus studies.

The Introduction is interesting because there Evans debunks the unscholarly internet myth that Jesus never existed. For example, regarding hyper-minimalist writers Tom Harpur and Robert Price Evans writes: "No major historian or New Testament scholar follows Price. The views of Harpur and Price are of no interest - if even known - to the members of the Society of New Testament Studies, an elite international group of scholars who serve on the faculties of the finest universities of the world." (5) The view that Jesus never existed is "quite eccentric."

Evans than proceeds to present the evidence for the historical Jesus (pp. 5-10). I wish I would have had this excellent synopsis available when I was invited to speak at Monroe High School in the auditorium years ago, as I presented the case for Jesus' existence as a response to a high school biology teacher who made the uneducated statement in his class that Jesus never existed.

University of Michigan Kicks Intervarsity Christian Fellowship off Campus

The University of Michigan has kicked Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (ICF) off their campus because ICF requires that their leaders all be Christians.

See here.

"The University of Michigan is accused of kicking an Asian InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter off campus because the group requires its leaders to be Christians – an apparent violation of the university’s non-discrimination policy."

"Sara Chang, an InterVarsity staff member at the University of Michigan, said they were given the option of submitting a revised constitution.

Instead, Chang and the other students decided to stand firm in their faith.
“For us, there’s no other option than to hold to the tenets of our faith,” she told Fox News. “We want to model a lifestyle of integrity. Holding the Bible as the inspired, divine word of God and seeing the commands for us to choose leaders who have a vibrant faith in Jesus – is obviously something very important that we want to continue to uphold.”
As a result of their decision, the university de-recognized the group – forcing them to relocate off campus."
Wow. I was a campus minister at Michigan State University in the 1980s. Things are way, way different now.

So... can the leaders of the Women's Swim Club be men?


Near Wilberforce, Ohio

"Hope," writes Miroslav Volf, "is love stretching itself into the future." (Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Public Good, Kindle location 978)

Hope is expectation. When I hope, I expect something from the future. And that "something," when it comes to hope, is seen as good. "In our everyday usage, “hope” is, roughly, the expectation of good things that don’t come to us as a matter of course." (Ib.)

Hope is different than optimism. "Optimism has to do with good things in the future that are latent in the past and the present; the future associated with optimism is an unfolding of what is already there. We survey the past and the present, extrapolate about what is likely to happen in the future, and, if the prospects are good, become optimistic." (Kindle Locations 989-991) Hope is different. Hope "has to do with good things in the future that come to us from “outside,” from God; the future associated with hope— [Jurgen] Moltmann calls it adventus—is a gift of something new." (Kindle Locations 991-993)

Hope is about a promise, given to us from God. Because God is love we trust in God's faithfulness. "God then brings about “a new thing”: aged Sarah, barren of womb, gives birth to a son (Gen. 21:1–2; Rom. 4:18–21); the crucified Jesus Christ is raised from the dead (Acts 2:22–36); a mighty Babylon falls and a new Jerusalem comes down from heaven (Rev. 18:1–24; 21:1–5); more generally, the good that seemed impossible becomes not just possible but real." (Kindle Locations 994-996)

Volf writes: "The expectation of good things that come as a gift from God—that is hope. And that is love too, projecting itself into our and our world’s future. For love always gives gifts and is itself a gift; inversely, every genuine gift is an expression of love. At the heart of the hoped-for future, which comes from the God of love, is the flourishing of individuals, communities, and our whole globe." (Kindle Locations 997-999)

How does a person become a hope-filled person? By living a life that constantly connects with God. Hopelessness is a dis-ease that breeds outside the house of God. But within God's house is we live close to the heart and voice of God. This is where we hear and receive the multiform promises of God.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


1/30 – Kalam Cosmological Argument
2/4 – Fine-tuning argument for God’s existence
2/6 – Fine-tuning argument for God’s existence
2/11 – Review for oral exam #1.
NOTE: You may come to the review session ONLY if you attended every class or missed only once so far.
If you have only missed once or have perfect attendance you do not need to attend the exam review if you feel you understand the material.
At the exam review I will repeat, as much as needed, the answers to the oral exam questions.
2/13 – Oral exams on Main Campus – room TBA.
2/18 – Oral exams on Main Campus – room TBA

2/20 – We begin Section 2 – The Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God

No Earthly Relationship Can Fulfill the Heart's Deepest Longings

For the past two winters I've chronicled the life of my snowblower. Her name is SB.

SB lives only for snow. Snow is SB's reason for being.

The winter of 2011-2012 was hard for her. Because we had no snow. In Michigan!

The winter of 2012-2013 is not much better. Once we had 2-3 inches. I went to the garage, picked up the snow shovel, and SB said "Use me!" I looked at her and could not refuse.

Yesterday, in Michigan (!!!), the temperature hit a record 61 degrees. Today the high could reach 64. When I awoke yesterday morning, wearing shorts and looking like I was heading to the beach, I opened the front door to see this.

SB had that angst-look about her. She has hit a new low. But my concern this morning was greater, as I walked out the door and confronted this.

SB, out of her snowloneliness, has gotten into a relationship in hopes that it will fill the Pascalian abyss in her heart. What a mistake, to think that any relationship can fulfill one's deepest longings!

There's some serious counseling ahead, I am certain. I'm hoping to head off the impending disaster.

SB and JD (John Deere)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Real Church Is a Peace Institute

A recent Sunday morning at Redeemer
I am slow-cooking in the deep wisdom God has given Henri Nouwen. His book The Road to Peace is beautiful. Nouwen is one of my constant companions on the road of life. I could just keep posting extended Nouwen quotes on Jesus and the spiritual life, for few people are able to express such things as clearly as he does.

Here Nouwen writes of the necessity, for every Jesus-follower, of being a peacemaker.

"Peacemaking can no longer be regarded as peripheral to being a Christian. It is not something like joining the parish choir. Nobody can be a Christian without being a peacemaker. The issue is not that we have the occasional obligation to give our attention to war intervention, or even that we should be willing to give some of our free time to activities in the service of peace. What we are called to is a life of peacemaking in which all that we do, say, think, or dream is part of our concern to bring peace to this world. Just as Jesus' command to love one another cannot be seen as a part-time obligation, but requires our total dedication, so too Jesus' call to peacemaking is unconditional, unlimited, and uncompromising. None of us is excused!"

Of course, correct? Because....

  • God is a God of peace. (Romans 15:33; 16:20; et. al.)
  • Christ is the Lord of peace who gives peace. (2 Thess. 3:16)
  • The good news is the good news of peace. (Ephesians 6:15)
  • The mindset of the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6)
  • Peace is an eschatological reward. (Romans 2:10)
  • The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
  • Peace is the goal for human relationships. (Romans 14:19; Eph. 4:3; 2 Tim. 2:22)
  • Peace is the foundation for problem solving. (1 C or. 7:15; 14:23)
  • The fruit of the Spirit is peace. (Gal. 5:17)
  • Peace guards our hearts (Phil. 4:7) and rules in them (Col. 3:15).

The event of the cross was an act of destruction (walls of hostility destroyed) that brought about reconciliation (with God and people), leading to a new humanity (Ephesians 2). This is so central, so paramount, to real Christianity that New Testament scholar Klyne Snodgrass tells us the Real Church is a peace institute.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Desiring a Pure Ministry Unmotivated by Ego-needs

A latte for breakfast, in Nairobi
I'm now reading Henri Nouwen's The Road to Peace. I'm only 20 pages into it, and have had to stop many times just to think about what I'm reading. No wonder Tony Campolo reviews it as "a treasure chest of truth and inspiration." I have to go very slow with writing like this. There are many treasures to be held and examined. Here's one.

"It may come as a great shock to realize that what we consider works of service in the name of God may be motivated to such a degree by our wounds and needs that not peace, but resentment, anger, and even violence become their fruits. The great irony is that Satan finds his safest hiding place where we are most explicitly involved in the work of God's kingdom. The "enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat." (1 Peter 5:8)"

We must distinguish our ministry from our need to be liked and affirmed. The more our ministry to others becomes the gratification of our own ego-needs, the more that ministry becomes tainted with evil. Nouwen writes:

"Self-doubt, inner restlessness, fear of being left alone, need for recognition, and desire for fame and popularity are often stronger motives in our actions for peace than a true passion for service. These are the motives that bring elements of war into the midst of our action for peace." (12)

I want whatever ministry God has given me to be pure. The more the self is involved, the less am I free to love others with no expectations of reciprocity.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tomb of the Unknown Baby


- Glenn McCoy, in today's nytimes.

When Church Becomes a Personal Need-Meeting Machine

Leaf, on snow in my backyard
The primary question being asked when the early church gathered in that upper room in Acts 2 was not: "Are  your personal needs being met?" Instead, the people were praying to be met by the promised Holy Spirit.

The identity of persons in the early church was corporate and tribal, not individuated. They were also not "consumers" in the sense of living in a market-driven economy. Tribal non-shoppers, that's what the early Jesus-followers were. Thus issues of personal rights and entitlements were comparatively absent. The great hope was to be met by God, not to be serviced by him.

James van Yperen addresses this in his book Making Peace. He writes:

"All individualism leads to consumerism. When self is center, the world exists to meet one’s personal needs. “Hey, I’m entitled to this!” A culture of consumerism will always value individual needs above community life. “You’re important to me so long as you serve my needs.”" (p. 30)

When "my needs" are not being met there is conflict and competition in the church.

"When a church focuses on meeting the needs of individuals, Jesus and the Bible become a personal, need-meeting machine. The church becomes a collection of individuals who are fundamentally at competition with one another—competing to have their needs met. Here, the Gospel becomes a commodity distributed by supply and demand. Since no church can meet all the needs, ultimately one set of needs must be placed against the other." (p. 30)


"When this happens, staff and members will compete to make a case for how and why their needs are greater than others. To make more compelling cases, the church becomes divided into interest groups or coalitions formed by age and individual preference." (Ib.)

"The church becomes a shopping center where we pick and choose what is good for us. We are not a community being formed by God’s Word and Spirit. We are individuals shaping ourselves. This strips the Gospel of its power—leaving people in their selfish individualism rather than inviting them into a transforming community of faith." (31)

To address this and combat these deeply ingrained cultural tendencies, our focus should be entirely on meeting with (abiding) and being met by Christ. Then, in the upside-down-kingdom style of God, we find our deepest needs being met, needs that can never be satisfied by our solo-shopper culture.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Dirty Loops do "Just Dance"

I've been watching The Dirty Loops ever since Colson made me aware of them.

This...  is musicianship! These guys can actually play... and sing (a Swedish Stevie Wonder?).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Waging Peace

Along the River Raisin in Monroe

Every Jesus-follower is to desire and work for peace. Because God is a God of peace, Jesus himself is our peace, and peace is part of the fruit of the Spirit that grows out of a life that abides in Christ.

I'm speaking on some major "peace" verses this Sunday at Redeemer - Ephesians 2:11-22. This passage is about peace and unity with God, and peace and unity with brothers and sisters in Christ. Such things are very good, and describe life "in Christ." Indeed, God pours out His blessing and manifests His presence in Spirit-produced unitive conditions. We read:

How wonderful, how beautiful,
    when brothers and sisters get along!
It’s like costly anointing oil
    flowing down head and beard,
Flowing down Aaron’s beard,
    flowing down the collar of his priestly robes.
It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon
    flowing down the slopes of Zion.
Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing,
    ordains eternal life.

-Psalm 133:1-3 (The Message)

Peacemakers are blessed, said Jesus. Note: not peace-lovers. Who doesn't love the absence of conflict? (Amazingly, some people are so spiritually off track that they love conflict, start wars, and thrive off them.)

The apostle Paul wrote much about peace. For example, Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (Romans 14:19) I know this is why Linda and I try to rescue conflict-filled marriages. The Real Jesus is a Peacemaker, a Reconciler, whereas satan is a destroyer and divider. God joins things together; satan works to separate what God joins.

This is hard work, since much of our American culture works against peace, and profits from the conflict of others. Our media would be out of business if wars and scandals ceased. The psalmist lamented this when he wrote:

Too long have I lived
    among those who hate peace.
I am for peace;
    but when I speak, they are for war.

- Ps. 120:6-7

How shall we wage peace today? Here's what I am doing.

First, I will abide in Christ.

I shall make this my focus.

As I do I am promised, by Jesus, that he will give me his peace, which is not a peace like our world gives. (John 14:27)

Second, as I connect with Jesus, I'm asking him to give me a peace-making heart. Change my heart, O God, into the heart of Christ.

The result is that, more and more, the Spirit-fruit of peace grows in me. It is a peace that is beyond me. It is a peace that transcends human understanding

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Logic & the Department of Homeland Security

Why study logic? Is studying logic valuable?

See the Department of Homeland Security's Manual of Job-Related Thinking Skills.

Very interesting!

The Insignificance of Derrida

Philosophers can be funny. I don't laugh at a lot of things, but sometimes philosophers can make me laugh. Here is philosopher Mark Goldblatt. He's not fond of postmodernism. Can you tell? He writes:

"The critical point to be borne in mind with regards to Derrida... is that he is not now, nor has he ever been, a philosopher in any recognizable sense of the word, nor even a trafficker in significant ideas; he is rather a intellectual con artist, a polysyllabic grifter who has duped roughly half the humanities professors in the United States — a species whose gullibility ranks them somewhere between nine-year-old boys listening to spooky campfire stories and blissful puppies chasing after nonexistent sticks — into believing that postmodernism has an underlying theoretical rationale. History will remember Derrida, and it surely will, not for what he himself has said but for what his revered status says about us."
- "Derrida, Derrida, etc."

Critical thinkers (logicians) are dismissive of postmodernism.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Needed: Civil Discourse (not Rhetoric) on the Meaning of "Marriage"

Monroe County

"In his inauguration speech today President Obama said: "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."

The President, with these words, presents an argument. The word "for" is an indicator word, indicating a premise. The argument is this:

1) If we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
2) We are created equal. (Implicit premise.)
3) Therefore our gay brothers and and sisters must be treated like anyone else under the law.

The conclusion can be rewritten: Therefore gays should be allowed to legally marry.

While 3 follows logically from 1 and 2, premise 1 is false. With this rhetorical sleight of hand President Obama wishes to redefine "marriage." "Marriage" is available to any two persons who lovingly commit to one another. The phrase "the love we commit to one another" is vague. Does this include the 60-year-old grandfather who lovingly commits to his 5-year-old granddaughter? Surely they should not be allowed to marry? 

Historically, "marriage" has been more precisely defined than this, out of a social reality. The book to read against legalizing gay marriage is Princeton University law professor Robert George's recent What is Marriage? George writes: "Most agree that there is a certain kind of relationship that is inherently sexual, and uniquely enriched by family life; and that it uniquely requires permanent and exclusive commitment to begin at all. Our thesis is that the basic human good that answers to these descriptions is one that only a man and a woman can form together." (Girgis, Sherif; Anderson, Ryan T; George, Robert P, What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense, Kindle Locations 1588-1590)

George et. al. offer legal reasoning against the direction President Obama is taking us. Needed: civil discourse, instead of rhetoric, on the meaning of "marriage."

The Small Inner Stream that Forms Within

La Jolla

It's no secret that I am very interested in spiritual formation. My entire life is invested in changing from my subhumanity into Christlikeness (See Galatians 4:19, e.g.). I'm not there yet, but desire this so much that I spend much time, one-on-one, with God.

One of my guides in this process of change is Henri Nouwen. I did not know Henri personally. Once I wrote him a letter with a question. To my surprise, he responded. Mostly I know Henri through his writings.

Henri writes:  "Spiritual formation, I have come to believe, is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves." (Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, Kindle Locations 152-154. Note: anyone interested in being formed into greater and greater Christlikeness should get this book.)

Spiritual formation happens in the presence of God. You cannot consistently dwell in the presence of God and stay unchanged. On rare occasions there is an instant morphing, a kind of quantum leap into greater Jesus-likeness. But mostly this is a slow-cooker. The word "abide" is not for microwaves.

Spiritual formation is hard to measure quantatively. In fact, it cannot be quantized. Nouwen instructs that "it is of great importance that we leave the world of measurements behind when we speak about the life of the Spirit." (Ib., Kindle Locations 151-152) We live "in a society that overvalues progress, development, and personal achievement, the spiritual life becomes quite easily performance oriented: “On what level am I now, and how do I move to the next one?”" (Ib., Kindle Locations 147-149)

When it comes to spiritual formation, rejection comparing your growth to that of others, and throw away the measuring rod. Nouwen quotes Russian mystic Theophan the Recluse:

"I will remind you of only one thing: one must descend with the mind into the heart, and there stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all seeing within you. Prayer takes a firm and steadfast hold, when a small fire begins to burn in the heart. Try not to quench this fire, and it will become established in such a way that the prayer repeats itself: and then you will have within you a small murmuring stream." (Ib., Kindle Locations 155-158)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

As Usual, Finding Much Time to Pray

Wilberforce, Ohio (just down the hill from Payne Theological Seminary)

This is Week 1 of 6 weeks of prayer for the Spiritual Formation students in my Payne Theological Seminary class. We're all praying, minimally, one hour a day, 5 days a week. Henri Nouwen writes of the importance of what we are engaged in.

"Prayer is not merely a condition for compassionate leadership: it is its essence. As long as we keep speaking about prayer as a way to restore ourselves from spiritual fatigue, or worse, to recharge our batteries, we have reduced prayer to a method and compassion to a commodity." (Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 79)

Increasingly, I am less interested in hearing from a person who does not have time for praying. Because, as Nouwen writes, "prayer is the essence of the spiritual life without which all ministry loses its meaning." (Ib.)

Why do I focus on prayer so much? The answer is simple: because Jesus did. Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. (Luke 22:39) "As usual," Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray. Jesus spent regular unhurried time with God. Jesus hung out with the Father.

The great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky said that “the second half of a person's life is made up of nothing but the habits he or she have acquired during the first half.” "As usual," many Christians do not have time to pray today. "As usual," some of us do, because our Lord did, and we're following after him.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Teaching Healing and Deliverance at Redeemer Ministry School

Lake Michigan sunset

Tomorrow morning in Redeemer Ministry School I begin teaching our second Kingdom of God class - Healing and Deliverance. This is a subject I love teaching and learning about. 

For an example of healing from our church see Craig Keener, Miracles, p. 440.

If you want to sign up for this class please contact our church office - 734-242-5277.

Here's the syllabus.


Redeemer Ministry School
Instructor – John Piippo, PhD

734-731-1709 – cell
734-243-6427 – home

Course times: Thursdays, 9:30-1. Jan. 17-March 21

Course Description

The main teaching of Jesus was about the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ “method” of bringing in the kingdom was twofold: proclamation of the message of the kingdom, and demonstration of the kingdom in power and authority. In this class we will apply the theology of the kingdom to the application of the kingdom, especially as regards power ministries such as healing and deliverance.


  • Students will be familiar with the biblical texts on healing.
  • Students will be able to apply the theology of the kingdom of God in their experience, in healing and deliverance ministry.
  • Students will personally and corporately practice and experience life in God’s kingdom, especially in terms of the demonstration of power ministries.

How you will be evaluated

  • In-class participation
  • Read the required texts
  • Demonstration of understanding of the material

Teaching Method

  • Examination of biblical texts of healing and deliverance
  • Explaining the required texts and articles
  • Providing other Kingdom of God resources
  • Class presentations that involve us in “practicing” kingdom realities
  • In-class and out-of-class dialogue and discussion

Required Reading

John Wimber, Power Healing
John Wimber, Power evangelism (selected chapters)
Charles Kraft, Defeating Dark Angels
Other readings to be assigned

Additional Resources We May Refer To


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Confronting the Postmodern Epistemology Disease Tonight

Tonight I begin teaching my Introduction to Logic class at MCCC. I will give a brief overview of the class. I'll tell them that logic is about learning to formulate and evaluate arguments. Students will need to understand and recognize what an argument is.
Postmodern Ivy in my backyard

An argument is a set of statements, one of which is a conclusion. Every argument has one (and only one) conclusion, with one or more supporting premises.

Premises and conclusions are statements. A statement is a sentence that describes a state of affairs that obtains. Statements are either true or false. They are true if the claimed state of affairs obtains; they are false if the claimed state of affairs does not obtain.

Here is where it will get interesting and confusing for students tonight. If a statement is true, it is true for everyone. In logic there is no such thing as "subjective truth," meaning Claim C is "true for you" but "false for me." That's called the "subjectivist fallacy." Some students will fail to understand this, as they are infected with the "postmodern epistemology" disease.

For example, the doctor tells you: You have a bacterial infection. You respond: "That's true for you but false for me."

No. If the statement You have a bacterial infection then it's just plain true.

Students today are so saturated with postmodern epistemology that this will be very difficult for them to understand. Here is where, for me, the fun begins.

Christians Persecuted in India by Hindu Fundamentalists

See Christians conduct prayer service amid police security: Police protection for Maharashtra congregation amid threats. 

A "church was attacked and the worshipers, including women and children, beaten up on Dec. 30 last by a mob of 400-500 Hindu fundamentalists.

No prayer service was held in the church since then and the community members had to go to a church 20 kms away from their home for prayers.

Br. Jadhav said that the community members, including mostly tribal people, have been allowed to draw water from the wells and are getting fire wood from the shops to cook food.

The community was last week denied the basic essentials as a social and economic boycott of Christians was in force in the area after a village council meeting which restricted practicing Christianity in the area.

Br. Jadhav said that the fundamentalists are against anyone coming from outside to conduct the prayer service or attend it.

“They have threatened to kill anyone who comes from outside to attend or conduct a prayer service,” he added.

The fundamentalists are reported to have said that they have orders from their seniors to prevent any practice of Christianity in the region."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Presenting the Ontological Argument for God today at Monroe County Community College

My MCCC Philosophy of Religion classes begin today. I'll take attendance, introduce myself, then explain the syllabus.

My class is divided into three sections. Section 1 is: philosophical arguments for God's existence.

I'll begin by teaching the Ontological Argument for God's existence.

Then we'll look at objections to this argument by Gaunilo and Kant, plus a rejoinder to Kant by Norman Malcolm intending to vindicate the OA.

"The ontological argument is an a priori argument for God's existence which was first formulated in the eleventh century by St Anselm, was famously defended by Rene Descartes in the seventeenth century, and still has important modern advocates, such as Alvin Plantinga... To say that the argument is an a priori argument is just to say that it is a deductive argument from premises whose truth is deemed to by knowable without recourse to any empirical evidence of any kind." (E.J. Lowe, "The Ontological Argument," The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion, 391)

Lowe formulates the OA this way:

  1. God is, by definition, a being than which none greater can be conceived.
  2. A being than which none greater can be conceived exists at least in the mind.
  3. It is greater to exist in reality than to exist only in the mind.
  4. Therefore, God - a being than which none greater can be conceived - exists not only in the mind but also in reality.
Today in class I'll formulate the OA like this:
  1. I have an idea a greater than which cannot be conceived.
  2. Therefore, God exists.

Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary - January 2013

It was my great privilege to teach my Spiritual Formation class last week at Payne Theological Seminary. I now have a new group of friends - here they are!

To Withhold Forgiveness is the Core Evil of the Kingdom of Darkness

Lake Erie sunrise (Sterling State Park, Monroe, MI)

I have hurt people. I have asked for their forgiveness. Many have granted this to me.

I have had people hurt me. They have come to me with the words, "John, what I said to you was wrong. Will you forgive me?"

Yes. I will. And I have. Because Christ has forgiven me of much. And because to withhold forgiveness is the core evil of the kingdom of darkness.

When someone hurts you, you have two alternatives: either forgive them, or condemn them. Either forgive or condemn. To not forgive them is to condemn them.

To forgive what someone has done to you is to cancel their indebtedness to you. Not to forgive them is to make them pay for what they have done to you.

We read in Colossians 2:13-14: He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

On the cross, your sins were forgiven - every one of them. Such pure and complete forgiveness cancelled the charge of your legal indebtedness. Your legal indebtedness stood against you and condemned you. But Christ took your legal indebtedness away, nailing it to the cross. Had he not done this you would still be indebted to God; you would have to pay. You would stand condemned. But for all who embrace the atoning sacrifice of Christ there is therefore now no condemnation (Romans 8:1).

If you are a Jesus-follower and someone harms you, you must forgive them. To not do so is to be a tool of satan, who is the condemner and "accuser." Accusation and condemnation are the weapons of evil. It is pure evil to withhold forgiveness. To walk in unforgiveness is to have God against you. 

Remember who said these words: And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Found here.)

Apply as needed, immediately.

NOTE: To forgive is not equal to forgetting. And forgiving someone is not equivalent to trusting them. But forgiveness is the road to rebuilding trust.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Trouble with Other People Who are Not Like Me

Downtown Monroe

In the days of my greater immaturity I sang in a college choir. I am a baritone, and I can hold a tune. I can stay on pitch. But X, who sang in the baritone section next to me, could not. And I grew to despise him for it. Not only was X tone deaf, he could sing louder than anyone in the choir. X's tone deafness tended to overwhelm the choir. He was an eighth of a tone flat, all the time. Just slightly off pitch. To be slightly off pitch in a choir, and loudly so, is a great sin, for it works to drag everyone else down to its distonal level.

To make matters worse X always had a smile on his face. I can see his broad smile now, 43 years later. X was upbeat, chipper, as he miserably sang. This angered me even more. X did not see how this was affecting me. My only relief was to share my grief with other people, to spread my pain far and wide. I was everyone, and everyone talked about X. "X is ruining our choir." "X can't sing." "Just what does X think he is doing?" "X makes my life miserable."

"My life would be better if X were not in my life."

But that last statement, of course, is false. My trouble with X brought out the trouble with me. I, not X (or Y or Z or...) am my greatest problem. Unless I come to see the truth of that I will be forever miserable.

C.S. Lewis, in a beautiful little piece many years ago called "The Trouble with X," wrote:

"Even if you became a millionaire, your husband would still be a bully, or your wife would still nag, or your son would still drink, or you'd still have to have your mother-in-law live with you.

It is a great step forward to realize that this is so; to face up to the fact that even if all external things went right, real happiness would still depend on the character of the people you have to live with--and that you can't alter their characters. And now comes the point. When you have seen this you have, for the first time, had a glimpse of what it must be like for God. For of course, this is (in one way) just what God Himself is up against. He has provided a rich, beautiful world for people to live in. He has given them intelligence to show them how it ought to be used. He has contrived that the things they need for their biological life (food, drink, rest, sleep, exercise) should be positively delightful to them. And, having done all this, He then sees all His plans spoiled--just as our little plans are spoiled--by the crookedness of the people themselves. All the things He has given them to be happy with they turn into occasions for quarreling and jealousy, and excess and hoarding, and tomfoolery..." (C.S. Lewis, The Trouble with X)

But God's view is different from my view, or from your view. "He sees one more person of the same kind--the one you never do see. I mean, of course, yourself. That is the next great step in wisdom--to realize that you also are just that sort of person. You also have a fatal flaw in your character. All the hopes and plans of others have again and again shipwrecked on your character just as your hopes and plans have shipwrecked on theirs."

God sees me. To God, I am X. And surely I am X to some people. "It is important to realize that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives others the same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don't know about."

There is a second way God is different from me. While I don't love X, God does. God  "loves the people in spite of their faults. He goes on loving. He does not let go. Don't say, "It's all very well for Him. He hasn't got to live with them." He has. He is inside them as well as outside them. He is with them far more intimately and closely and incessantly that we can ever be. Every vile thought within their minds (and ours), every moment of spite, envy, arrogance, greed, and self-conceit comes right up against His patient and longing love, and grieves His Spirit more than it grieves ours."

Today, when I think of my attitude towards X, I am saddened. X was no dummy. Surely X knew I couldn't stand him. The thought of X knowing that and still smiling as he sang with all his atonal heart sickens me. Who am I, before God, to treat anyone that way? And who are you to do the same? Lewis writes:

"Be sure that there is something inside you which, unless it is altered, will put it out of God's power to prevent your being eternally miserable. While that something remains, there can be no Heaven for you, just as there can be no sweet smells for a man with a cold in the nose, and no music for a man who is deaf. It's not a question of God "sending" us to Hell. In each of us there is something growing up which will of itself be Hell unless it is nipped in the bud. The matter is serious: let us put ourselves in His hands at once--this very day, this hour."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Forgiveness is a Beautiful Thing

Forgiveness is a Beautiful Thing

I want to know the love of God so as to love others as God does. One aspect of God's love is this:Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love forgives. Once forgiveness is granted, all the record-keeping goes out the window. Anyone who has ever experienced God's love-as-forgiveness knows the joy and freedom of it, not as some theory, but as an experiential reality. I am willing to cancel others' indebtedness towards me as I realize how much God has forgiven me. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. Not to forgive others is an evil thing.

My favorite movie scene on forgiveness-as-release-from-"record-keeping" is in "The Mission."Robert DeNiro plays a soldier, a "conquistador," who mercilessly slaughters entire villages of tribal Indians in South America in pursuit of gold. One day DeNiro gets into a fight with his brother and kills him. He's thrown in prison. Not only is he behind literal, physical prison bars, he is also in a spiritual and emotional prison. He is filled with self-hatred and views himself an evil, horrific creature who deserves to be punished for the rest of his days and beyond.

Jeremy Irons plays a priest whose parish is one of the tribes DeNiro personally ravaged. Irons offers DeNiro redemption if he will join him in serving the people of this tribe. But DeNiro refuses to be free of his past. As an act of self-penance, DeNiro carries a large bag of his conquistador armor and weapons. The sight of him carrying this stuff through the jungles and up mountains is exhausting. Doesn't he understand that this is what Jesus died on the cross for, paying the price by taking on the punishment we all deserve?

At the trip's end, as they approach the village, they have to climb a 300-foot cliff that has a waterfall. DeNiro inches his way up, with this huge ball of sin tied to him. After hours of work he finally makes it to the top. As he makes his way over the edge onto a ledge the entire tribe is there to face him. The tribal chief approaches him, carrying a knife. At this point it looks like he's going to kill the murderous DeNiro. But instead he cuts the rope from around DeNiro's neck, and the large bag of metal falls into the river below. The tribe is smiling. This is the act of forgiveness and redemption.

A later scene shows DeNiro loving these tribes-people while he is reading, in the background, 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Only the Free Can Forgive From the Heart

While here at Payne Seminary I've talked with my students about a heart of forgiveness towards those who have hurt us. Personally, I am praying for this kind of heart, which is the amazing heart of Christ.

My father had a friend who worked at Rockford Dragway, our local quarter-mile dragstrip that brought in big-name cars and racers. Like the weekend Art Arfons and his "Green Monster" came to town. Dad's friend invited us to come watch the Green Monster race. What 14-year-old kid would turn down a chance to see that! When we got to the dragstrip the friend asked me if I'd like to be the first to ride on the quarter-mile track that evening. He had a Ford Shelby Cobra (top speed 165-185 mph), and took me for a ride unlike any I'd ever experienced before. After the race he opened up the hood and showed me the engine that powered this thing. Then we walked over to the Green Monster and looked at the engine that set a land speed record of 576 miles per hour!

When God opens up the hood to show us what powers the Kingdom of God, what we see is pure heart-love, manifested in grace, mercy, and forgiveness. The most stunning example of this is seen in Luke 23:34 - :"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Jesus says this about men who have just pounded nails through his hands. 

To forgive means: "to cancel a debt." To forgive someone means they are no longer indebted to you. When Jesus asks the Father to forgive them, he's asking that they be released from their indebtedness. If the Father forgives them, they won't have to pay anymore.

I've had people hurt me. At times I deserved it; mostly I did not deserve it. Once, when I was a kid, I was teasing another kid. A lot. He surprised me by hitting me so hard in the stomach that I doubled over. I hated him after that. I never forgot what he did to me even though, upon reflection, I saw that I deserved it.

It's the same with you. You've hurt people; you've been hurt by people. That's life in the kingdom of darkness. But in the Kingdom of God it's different. When we pray "God, bring your Kingdom to this earth" the difference will not be that we no longer get hurt. The difference will be that we no longer will hate and hurt others. Hatred of people has no place in God's Kingdom.

Many years ago, in another church I was in, there was a man who made some serious financial misjudgments and cost our church a lot of money. A few years ago he called me. I felt tense talking with him after those many years. He said, "I called to tell you I was wrong and to ask for your forgiveness." I said, "I forgive you." Three beautiful words. When he heard them he began sobbing uncontrollably. A giant, heavy weight had been lifted off of his soul. To be released from indebtedness is the experience of freedom. Jesus asks the Father to release his persecutors from their indebtedness. If suddenly your indebtedness were canceled, how would you feel? Free!(If you want to see an example of this watch what happens to Robert DeNiro in the movie "The Mission.")

Jesus once told his disciples that they are to “Love your enemies and pray for those who abuse you, who persecute you.” (Luke 6:27-28). This was not some religious theory for Jesus. He's actually doing it, in Luke 23, as he hangs on a cross. This is His very heart.

In Acts 7 Jesus-follower Stephen, as he is being martyred, falls on his knees and cries out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." That's some kind of crazy, not-of-this-world love. Only the free can do this. A free person says, from the heart, "I can live without that indebtedness." Unforgiveness is a way of punishing, making a person "pay." Forgiveness lets go. This is the freedom of forgiveness.

How do you forgive the unforgivable? Like this. First, it is possible to forgive the unforgivable by remembering that the people who are hurting you do not really know what they are doing. But didn't the soldiers who flogged Jesus know what they were doing? Not really. They didn't know who that man on that cross was, what he was doing, and how much they needed the forgiveness he was achieving. When Jesus asked the Father to forgive them for they don't know what they do, he was saying "Father forgive them because they need forgiveness more than they know." The same is true of the people that have hurt you. They need your forgiveness more than they need anything else in the world. They probably will never change until you release them from their indebtedness. They may not even change if you do. But you still have to give it to them. Your forgiveness is a key to their freedom. Your unforgiveness perpetuates their imprisonment.

How do you forgive the unforgivable? It's possible to do this when you realize that Jesus forgave you when you were unforgivable. The situation, from God's POV, is not that you are the "good guy" and others are the "bad guys." Christ died for the bad guys, among which are: you. Personally, I have many moments, a lot of which come when I am celebrating the Lord's Table, when I think that God, not sparing, sent Christ to die and take away my sin. How much I have needed and still need the Father's forgiveness. I am a person of great indebtedness whose debt has been forgiven. How can I not forgive others for what they have done to me?

Jesus expected his disciples to forgive others just as he had forgiven them. As we look at this PLEASE NOTE: To forgive does NOT mean: to forget. If you stripped me naked and flogged me I’d never forget it. But I am to forgive you. And, to say “I forgive you” does NOT mean “I trust you.” Yet we are to cancel other people's indebtedness towards us. Again and again Jesus insisted that “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15) In fact, Jesus taught his followers to regularly pray like this: “Forgive us [cancel] our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors [cancelled their indebtedness].” – Matt. 6:12

Jesus once stunned his disciples with his parable about the master who forgave the wickled servant. The servant rejoiced when set free from his great indebtedness. But he then turns and refuses to forgive the puny indebtedness of people who owe him. The master is enraged, and throws the servant into prison! Jesus comments on this: "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:35)

From your heart. With these words God lifts up the hood so we can see the engine that powers the Kingdom of Heaven. It is love that manifests itself in forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Without this engine, or with some "theoretical engine," the Kingdom won't run. True forgiveness is a heart-thing more than it is some mental assent to a truth. That's where real, genuine 100% forgiveness comes from. It's instructive to remember that Jesus didn't wear a 'WWJD' bracelet. As he was dying on the cross he didn't lean his head to the side, see a yellow bracelet that read 'WWID," ask himself "What Would I Do?" and deduce: "If I were Me I would forgive these people who are doing a very bad thing to me." A person who has a heart like Christ's won't need to ask the question WWJD? They would just do it, because the truth has descended from their head into their heart. The heart of Jesus was in the morphe (shape) of love and forgiveness. Therefore, Jesus forgave his enemies for what they did. When Jesus tells us we are to forgive others from our heart, he's not giving us another "rule."

Look closely now. Paul addresses the Galatian Jesus-followers this way: "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…" Dallas Willard, who has written so brilliantly on the idea of Christ-formation-in-us, says: "Spiritual formation in the tradition of Jesus Christ is the process of transformation of the inmost dimension of the human being, the heart, which is the same as the spirit or will. It is being formed (really, transformed) in such a way that its natural expression comes to be the deeds of Christ done in the power of Christ." The result is, as Paul write in Philippians 2:5: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." And in 1 Corinthians 2:16 Paul states: "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ."

Here's what this looks like to me. I had a friend named Robert who was a Green Beret. Robert won the all-military martial arts competition. His physical body was a trained war machine. Robert became a follower of Jesus. He was in my church. One day I said to Robert, let's do something fun in front of our whole church. Let's you and I pretend to fight, and you allow be to "defeat" you. I could use that as a sermon illustration. Robert looked at me seriously and said, "John, I can't do that." "Why?" "Because," Robert said, "I might kill you." Seriously? Yes, because Robert's physical body was trianed so that if someone touched him in a threatening way it would respond. He didn't have to wear a bracelet on his wrist to remind him of what a warrior would do. He was a warrior, and he would do it. In this sense his responses to danger were "from the heart." Robert had the heart and mind of a warrior. He had moved "beyond theory." Had he not, he would have died many times.

If you and I had the heart of Christ, or the "mind of Christ" (as Paul claimed to have), when we got confronted with people out to crucify us we'd heart-respond to them out of love and forgiveness. This is nothing less than the metamorphing of our being, as spoken of in Romans 12:1-2. Dallas Willard has called this the "renovation of the heart." As this happens one has "put on" the character of Christ.

Jesus calls us to forgive others from the heart. How is this possible? It is possible if we get a new heart. A renovated, transformed heart. The renovation of the heart into Jesus-love happens as we, daily, abide in Christ as a branch abides in the vine. "Striving" to love as Jesus loved will not do the job. Read, on this, John chapters 14-17. Abide. Dwell. Reside. Stay attached. Live "in Christ." 

Welcome the Father as he comes to "make his home in you." The abiding habitation of the Father in our hearts is what transforms our impoverished, imprisoned, punishing, unforgiving hearts into hearts that freely forgive. It's true freedom to have a heart of forgiveness. 

Only the free can forgive from the heart.