Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Do You Have a Prayer Request?

Green Lake, Wisconsin

This afternoon I'm going out to pray for 3-4 hours. I've been doing these extended Tuesday afternoon prayer times for 35 years.

If you have a prayer request you'd like me to pray for please send it to me and I'll take it before the Lord in my prayer time.




Monday, April 29, 2013

Philosophy of Religion and Logic Exams

Today I'm giving 1-on-1 oral exams for students in my two MCCC Philosophy of Religion classes.

Whitman Center students will have their exams at the Whitman Center in our regular classroom.

Main Campus students will have their exams in room A153.

The questions are:

  1. Bertrand Russell's "A Free Man's Worship."
  2. Nietzsche's "Parable of the Mad Man."
  3. Gould's "Two Separate Domains."
  4. William Lane Craig's "The Indispensability of Theological Metaethical Foundations for Morality."

Tomorrow evening I give exam 6 in my Logic class. On Vaughn, Ch. 9 - "Inference to the Best Explanation."

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Rat-Race As the Race Towards Nothing

Amish youth near Charm, Ohio

Thomas Merton writes:

"Let us start from one admitted fact: if prayer, meditation, and contemplation were once taken for granted as central realities in human life everywhere, they are so no longer. They are regarded, even by believers, as somehow marginal and secondary. What counts is getting things done." (Contemplation in a World of Action)

"Getting things done" - that is the quantitative life; discerning what one ought to do and what should get done - that's the qualitative life. The former is the "doing" life, the latter is the "being" life. Merton says that the jesus-life "aims at a certain quality of life, a level of awareness, a depth of consciousness, an area of transcendence and adoration which are not usually possible in an active secular existence." The authentic Jesus-follower seeks to be free from what William Faulkner called "the same frantic steeplechase toward nothing which is the essence of "worldliness" everywhere." (Ib., 9)

In the qualitative life there is a certain awareness and perspective, "an authentic understanding of God's presence in the world and his intentions for man. A merely fictitious and abstract isolation does not provide this awareness." (Ib.) In such a life we "escape in some measure from the senseless tyranny of quantity." (Ib., 10)

To live this way is not to escape from the world or be against the world. It is to be for the world in ways the world cannot understand.

When I read people like Merton it is almost always breathing fresh woodland air in the midst of our polluted, quantitative doing-culture. What is most needed today for lovers and embracers of Jesus is to discover the inner life in such as a way as to make all of life something that is lived out of a solid, deep, aware, discerning center, which is the human heart morphed into greater Christlikeness.

2013 Green Lake Holy Spirit Conference - June 22-28, 2013


Our speakers include:

Leif Hetland

Leif Hetland is from the small town, Haugesund, in Norway. The Holy Spirit transformed a broken drug addict to become a world changer that is addicted to Jesus. Leif married his wife, Jennifer, in 1989 and they have four children.
Leif is the Founder and President of Global Mission Awareness, as well as Leif Hetland Ministries. Through 25 years of ministry in 76 nations, Leif is known as an "Ambassador of Love" and is a spiritual father to an apostolic network of churches, ministries, and missionaries. The present move of God has brought Leif into relationship with people like Randy Clark, Bill Johnson, Heidi Baker, Dr. RT Kendall, Jack Taylor and many more. Learning to be sensitive to Holy Spirit, he sees in the western world signs, wonders and miracles that a few years ago was only being experienced in third world nations.

Leif has authored 5 books and speaks in conferences all over the world. His heart is to develop a Kingdom Culture in every community that will BRING HEAVEN TO EARTH! Some of his messages known throughout the world are "Which Chair Are You Sitting In?", "Healing The Orphan Spirit", "Soaring As Eagles", and "A Kingdom World View".

Robbie Dawkins (on the left)

Robby and his wife, Angie have pastored the Vineyard Church of Aurora, IL since 1996. Born to missionary parents in Japan, Robby had an early start in ministry. Robby and Angie feel that God called them to plant in a poor urban community, and continually use "power evangelism" to gather for the church. They estimate that over half of current attenders have come to Christ at the Vineyard Aurora, and that almost seventy-five percent of those have come through "power" encounters.
Robby is in demand as a leader and speaker who is effective in building up and equipping pastors and churches with power tools for harvesting. These power tools are prophetic ministry, healing, ministry of the presence of God, and deliverance from demonic power. Robby loves to tell literally hundreds of stories of his personal experiences, which include God using him and others he has mentored through the years to see God's Kingdom "break in" with signs and wonders.

Having been in over 30 countries around the world, God has used him to help build the church internationally as well. He has ministered in many Muslim countries and in 2 of the top 10 most dangerous countries according to Voice of the Martyrs.

Joe McIntyre

Joe McIntyre is the President of the International Fellowship of Ministries. Joe was converted in 1970 as the result of being witnessed to by a member of a Jesus People Christian communal group that targeted young people in the hippie lifestyle. Since 1980 Joe has pastored his church, Word of His Grace Church and Ministry Center, which is located in Bothell, WA.
Joe is driven by a passion to see believers walk in a deep, rich fellowship with God the Father. He is an excellent teacher who desires to cross-pollinate people from different movements. He is a great representative of the Word of Faith movement, and his balanced teachings bring a very eye-opening perspective to the Word of Faith message.

Conference Dates:
June 22-June 28, 2013 Our conference begins at the Green Lake Conference Center (glcc.org) with Sunday morning worship at 9am, June 23 and ends with Communion at 9:30pm Thursday evening, June 28. Most people will arrive at Green Lake on Saturday evening June 23 and leave Green Lake on Friday morning June 29th.

Please register for our conference online at our hsrm.org website

Philosophy of Religion Students

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion Students on Main Campus:

Your final oral exams will be in room A153.

Whitman Center Students: Your final oral exams will be Monday in our regular classroom.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Philosophy of Religion - Craig's Metaethical Argument for God's Existence

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students:

1. State Craig's argument:

1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

This is a logically valid argument, which means: if the premises are true, the conclusion is necessarily true.

2. How does Craig defend P1?

a. By "objective moral value" (OMV) we mean: a moral value that is true independently of what people think of it. Thus, if it is true, it is true for everyone. Like, e.g., the statement The lights in this room are on.

b. Give the "teacher analogy" I used in class.

c. Craig cites a number of atheists who admit that, on their atheism, ethics is illusory.

3. How does Craig defend P2?

Many atheists agree that OMVs exist. Such as, e.g., Sam Harris in the Harris-Craig debate, and Michael Ruse (in the Craig essay).

OMVs function as "properly basic beliefs." A properly basic belief is one that we believe to be true without being able to evidentially prove it. Examples are: 1+1=2, and I see a car coming towards me (Implying that My senses provide reliable information about the outside world.). Even though we can't prove either of these statements to be true, we are rational in believing them until we are given a good reason not to.

For example we know that Racism is wrong. We apprehend this to be true. So, moral values are apprehended. Like we apprehend, by sense experience, that the lights are either on or off. Moral values function like "properly basic beliefs."
Both atheists and theists recognize that OMVs exist. This is not surprising if God exists. If humans are God’s image-bearers, then it’s not surprising that they are capable of recognizing or knowing the same sorts of moral values – whether theists or not.
[Note: Theistic philosopher Paul Copan writes: “We possess an in-built “yuck factor” - basic moral intuitions about the wrongness of torturing babies for fun, of raping, murdering, or abusing children. We can also recognize the virtue of kindness or selflessness, the obligation to treat others as we would want to be treated, and the moral difference between Mother Teresa and Josef Stalin. Those not recognizing such truths as properly basic are simply wrong and morally dysfunctional.”]

Science and the Moral Life (Metaethical Issues)

Metaethical studies and research are on the rise.

See the recent Hedgehog Review on "Science and the Moral Life." You can access the full texts of some of the essays.

Richard Dawkins's Fading Atheism (R.I.P.)

Self, in Bangkok

I thought so. The angry evangelistic atheism of Richard Dawkins has faded into the sunset. The Spectator reports: "The atheist spring that began just over a decade ago is over [ thank God]. Richard Dawkins is now seen by many, even many non-believers, as a joke figure, shaking his fist at sky fairies. He’s the Mary Whitehouse of our day." ("Richard Dawkins has lost: meet the new new atheists")

The silly, non-scholarly stuff seen in Dawkins-inspired movies like"Religulous" and "Zeitgeist" is now found only in smoky chat rooms and occasionally on Facebook by "atheists" who think they've discovered the fountain of truth. And those crazy Dawkins atheist t-shirts that never sold! But... for one more look...

Dawkins and the then-new-but-now-old-school atheists "managed to convince themselves that religion is basically bad, and that the brave intellectual should talk against it. (This preference for seeming tough and clear over admitting difficult complexity is really cowardice, and believers are prone to it too.)"

Of course, atheists are still with us. There will always be a small percentage of them. Way, way back in the 1970s, when I was a philosophy undergraduate and then PhD student, there were some atheists in philosophy departments. All of them (except one) was kind to me, a Christian theist. I learned from them all (except the one who had it in for me and the likes of me). My atheist professors never dismissed the absurdly simplistic ahistorical idea of religion as evil, for they knew better. 

One atheist of today, Tonya Gold, writes in ridicule of the idea of religion as a force for evil: ‘The idea of my late church-going mother-in-law beating homosexuals or instituting a pogrom is obviously ridiculous, although she did help with jumble sales and occasionally church flowers.’ (Quoted in Ib.) Who can forget (if they ever even knew?) Dawkins' and Hitchens' bludgeoning of Mother Teresa and the former's ignorant claim that religious parents are guilty of child abuse? Note that atheist "Douglas Murray recently recounted debating alongside Richard Dawkins and being embarrassed by the crudity of his approach." (Ib.)

"A polemical approach to religion has swung out of fashion. In fact, admitting that religion is complicated has become a mark of sophistication. Andrew Brown of the Guardian has played a role in this shift: he’s a theologically literate agnostic who is scornful of crude atheist crusading, and who sometimes ponders his own attraction to religion. On a more academic level, the philosopher John Gray has had an influence: he is sceptical of all relics of Enlightenment optimism, including the atheist’s faith in reason."

I see this among my philosophy students. Who, BTW, have never heard of Richard Dawkins. I used the term "the Four Horsemen" in class recently and one of my students e-mailed me asking "What's that?" The "Horsemen" have ridden out of town, leaving behind a few of their avatars.

Surely the following is true: "What distinguishes the newer atheist is his admission that non-believers can be just as immoral as believers. Rejecting religion is no sure path to virtue; it is more likely to lead to complacent self-regard, or ideological arrogance." (Ib.) But... of course!

In my philosophy of religion classes I'm going to stop bringing up Dawkins-Harris-Hitchens-Dennett since they are largely irrelevant to the real discussion which has been going on for centuries. The real discussion gets expressed in philosophy of religion texts such as the one I use. This old-and-still-relevant discussion captivates most of my students while remaining non-understood by "Religulous" lovers. Take it and read, if you can.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

500,000 Visits

Self (with thanks to Val F.)

If you have read one or more of my posts on this blog - thank you! (Today it hit 500,000.)

Ontological Polarities of the Spirit (Nouwen's "Movements of the Spirit")

Lilacs, in our front yard
 For my ABCM colleagues in ministry. 

I recently finished my slow-cook through Henri Nouwen's Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. I now see  how indebted I have been to Nouwen regarding my own idea of "ontological dualities of the human spirit." 

Nouwen calls them "polarities." They have a vectorial, from-to movement. They help us understand the directionality of spiritual formation and spiritual transformation.

My original eight ontologica ldualities are:

i.      From PRIDE/SHAME to -------------- HUMILITY
ii. From CONTROL to -------------------- TRUST
iii. From REJECTION to ----------------- AFFIRMATION
iv. From EVIL to -------------------------- GOOD
v. From FEAR to --------------------------- FAITH (RISK; OBEDIENCE)
vi. From MATERIALISM to -------------- SIMPLICITY
vii. From DEATH to ----------------------- LIFE

MichaelChristensen, in "Nouwen’s Place in Spiritual Development Theory" (Appendix), identifies twenty-six such "polarities" in Nouwen's writings. They include:

·                     From LONELINESS to----------------------SOLITUDE
·                     From HOSTILITY to-------------------------HOSPITALITY
·                     *From ILLUSION to----------------------------PRAYER
·                     From SARCASM to--------------------------CONTEMPLATION
·                     *From OPAQUENESS tp---------------------TRANSPARENCY
·                     From LONELINESS to----------------------SOLITUDE
·                     From LIFE'S ILLUSION to-----------------THE PRAYER OF THE HEART
·                     From FATALISM to-------------------------FAITH
·                     From WORRYING to------------------------PRAYER
·                     From MIND to--------------------------------HEART
·                     From DISSIPATION to---------------------HOMECOMING
·                     *From RESENTMENT to--------------------GRATITUDE
·                     From FORGIVEN to------------------------FORGIVER
·                     From PROFESSIONALISM to------------CREATIVE MINISTRY
·                     From ALIENATION to---------------------COMMUNITY
·                     From COMPETITION to-------------------COMPASSION
·                     From ANGUISH to--------------------------FREEDOM
·                     *From SORROW to---------------------------JOY
·                     *From THE HOUSE OF FEAR to----------THE HOUSE OF LOVE
·                     From AGING to------------------------------DYING
·                     *From EXCLUSION to----------------------INCLUSION
·                     From DENYING to--------------------------BEFRIENDING DEATH
(Christensen, Appendix in Nouwen, Spiritual Formation, Kindle Locations 2119 ff.)

In Nouwen's work, seven of the Spirit-movements predominate (indicated by *). As we dwell in God's presence the Spirit of God meta-morphs our hearts, with a "from---- to" movement. We are changed from, e.g., a HATEFUL HEART to LOVING HEART. In this way our subhuman heart takes on the form of Christ's heart. (Galatians 4:19).

Christensen writes:

"These movements of the Spirit may vary with the individual and with one’s season of life and community of faith; yet no one’s spiritual life is static, absolute, or perfectly completed, as if we must graduate from one movement to another before continuing our journey. Rather, we remain in motion and in the process of discerning which way the wind of God’s activity is blowing in our life. The process involves becoming aware of and naming the subtle movements of Spirit. To live spiritually is to seek to breathe with the Spirit’s rhythm and move in a God-ward direction on the long walk of faith.” 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Spiritual Formation & Transformation

Faith Bible Seminary students, New York City

Since 1977 I have been developing my theory of spiritual transformation, which is about How God Changes Lives. The inputs for my outline of spiritual transformation have been and are:

1. the countless hours, over the past thirty-plus years, that I have gone alone to a quiet place and prayed.
2. my ongoing saturation in the Christian scriptures, to include study and meditation on them.
3. the almost-2000 pastors, Christian leaders, seminary students, and lay people I have been privileged to spiritually mentor and coach through class lectures, dialogue, and the submission of their spiritual journals for me to respond to.
4. my past and ongoing study of the history of Christian spirituality.

I think my theory can be applied not only to the issue of spiritual transformation but also to the ideas of spiritual “renewal,” “restoration,” “renovation,” and “formation.” All of these concepts have to do with “change,” and in Christian spirituality change is good, stasis is bad. One is either growing or dead. Spiritually, to not be growing is to be dying. As my friend Jim Hunter has said, “We’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting.” Or, as Robert Quinn has written, it’s either “deep change” or “slow death.”

My approach to spiritual formation (I feel free to use “formation” and “:transformation” interchangeably) applies and works cross-culturally, cross-temporally (concerning both old and young; and past, present, and future), and with both men and women. This is because the locus of spiritual formation is “the heart.” Thus change and renewal happen at a deep, ontological level. Because the deeper we go inside persons the more we are all the same, the principles of Christian spiritual formation speak to everyone, everywhere. This is my experience over the years as I have been privileged to teach this material to Chinese in Singapore, New York City, and Vancouver, Indians in India, African Americans at Payne Theological Seminary, Palmer Theological Seminary, and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, African pastors (Kenyan and Ugandan) in Kenya, and hundreds of Anglo pastors and Christian leaders from the U.S., in Canada, and beyond. In my seminary classes I think I have taught this material to pastors and seminary students from every continent and, it seems, representing most of this world’s countries. All of this interaction and input has served to help me refine my teachings to the following major points.

How does God change a human heart? Here is a Phenomenology of Spiritual Renewal and Transformation. (Viz., a description of what I see happening when lives are renewed and transformed in Chriat.)

1 – Recognize how needy you are.
Without this step growth will not occur. To recognize one’s own neediness is to be in a very good place, spiritually. Isaiah 6 serves us well here. Isaiah, who is arguably the most righteous person among the people of Israel, enters the temple and sees a vision of a holy God. The result is that Isaiah is “undone,” or “unraveled,” or “dis-integrated.” There is a huge gap between the holy-otherness of God and Isaiah with his dirty mouth.

To recognize, to internalize, the gap between self and God is crucial to one’s inner change.

2 – Understand the magnitude of the needed transformation.
The Jesus-idea is that God wants to morph us into Christlikeness. Paul, in Galatians 4:19, longs that “Christ be formed” in his Galatian brothers and sisters.

The issue here is not asking “what would Jesus do?” but rather doing what Jesus did, as a matter of the heart. For example, if I had the heart of a great soccer player I would do what a great soccer player does. Jesus, as he hung dying on a cross, did not have took look at a wristband and ask the question, “Now what would I do?” Rather, Jesus forgave his persecutors, and we must believe he did so not as a matter of ethical protocol but because this was, indeed, his very heart.

The word Romans 12:2 uses is, in Greek, metamorphe. Literally, this is about “a change of form.” What is needed here are not more ethical rules to follow, since one can obey laws without having a heart for them. This concerns what Dallas Willard has called “the renovation of the heart.” To be morphed into like-Christ-ness.

Because the magnitude of the transformation is so great, we realize we can’t do this by means of our own will power.


3- Understand that only God can effect the needed transformation.
Spiritual formation and transformation into like-Christness is not something we can do on our own. Indeed, if it were something we could do on our own, then we will have greatly diminished Christ. When it comes to this kind of change it is good to realize that we can’t “self-transform.” This is one thing we cannot do in our own wisdom and strength.

There is some good news here. This realization, if it is a heart-reality, frees us from “striving.” When it comes to personal transformation no striving is allowed. It simply won’t do any good to “try harder.” The goal of heart-morphing into Christlikeness is so beyond us that striving is useless. If we are to be transformed, only God can do it.


4 – Get into the presence of God.
Enter into the “spiritual gymnasium” and “exercise unto godliness.” But isn’t that a kind of “striving?” No, because the spiritual exercises or disciplines are simply ways of ushering us into God’s presence. Once we abide there, God himself changes us. We are then like lumps of clay on a potter’s wheel, with God himself the shaper of our hearts.

John 14-16 is important here, as Jesus gives his “final discourse” to his disciples. Be a branch, connected to Jesus the true Vine. The stuff and life and resources and joy and peace and power of “the Vine” begins to course through the arteries of “the branch.” Just as a branch could not be attached to a healthy apply tree and fail to produce apples, so you and I cannot consistently dwell in God’s presence & remain unchanged.

This raises the question of the locus, or “place” of spiritual transformation.

5 – The transformation is a matter of “the deep waters of the heart.”
Proverbs 20:5.says: “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” God’s Spirit moves in the deep waters of the human heart. Here is where the morphing happens.

This spiritual formation is not an external, physical makeover. It is internal, deep, and concerns the human heart. And, it is helpful to note that the deeper we go inside people the more we are all the same. This truth explains why, among other things, the Jesus-message has gone global.

6 – The dismantling of the false self
A major part of spiritual formation is the dismantling of the false, or fallen self. Using recent language by N.T. Wright, God wants to rescue us from our subhumanity and form Christ in us, who was truly human (as well as “very God”).

In my own process of spiritual transformation, and in coaching others, here are examples of the false self’s dismantling. God want to remove from us:

* self-love
* self-hatred
* self-pity
* self-hiding
* self-justification
* self-righteousness
* self-will
* self-centeredness
* self-seriousness
* self-attention
* self-inflation
* self-ignorance

This dismantling of the false self relates to what Jesus said about denying our self daily and taking up our cross. Jesus, the fully human One, was an other-centered Servant. As we enter into God’s presence he wants to morph our hearts into the sacrificial selflessness of Jesus.

7 – Ontological dualities
In the deep waters of the human heart we are all the same. This is why the good news of Jesus and his Kingdom speaks to all persons in all times and all places.

Spiritual transformation has a vectorial dimension in that it is a shifting or moving from one place to another. For example, all persons struggle with control and trust. God wants to shift our hearts from controlling to trusting. This movement is, precisely, the change; viz., one’s heart changes from a control-shaped heart to a trust-shaped heart.

I have discovered the following “ontological dualities” that lie at the base of the human heart. They are:

1. From Pride/Shame to Humility
2. From Control to Trust
3. From Rejection to Affirmation
4. From Evil to Good
5. From Fear to Faith
6. From Materialism to Simplicity
7. From Death to Life

As we continually abide in Christ there is a slow movement from the left ontological condition to the right side. I think that, using these deep dualities, one could thus measure spiritual transformation.

8 – A shifting of paradigms
I have spent time over the years developing this part of: what gets transformed as we dwell in God’s presence. Deep-structure paradigms get changed.

9 – Humility – the foundational attitude of authentic spiritual transformation
Finally, and in some ways back to the beginning, the foundational attitude needed so that one’s heart is “good soil” for the changes God desires to bring about is: humility. Pride, C.S. Lewis said, is "the complete anto-God state of mind." Francis Frangipane called pride "the armor of darkness." If these things are true, as I think they are, then of course the proud heart cannot expect to experience being formed into Christ.

(Video link for my Philosophy of Religion Students) Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students:

We will not have our Philosophy of Religion class on Monday, April 22.

Instead of our class I want you to watch the debate between neuroscientist and atheist Sam Harris, and philosopher and theist William Lane Craig.

The debate is here - The God Debate II: Harris vs. Craig.

The entire transcript of the debate is here - "Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural?"

This debate will relate to the last two subjects of this semester's class, especially:

1) Gould's NOMA, and the claim that one cannot derive "ought" from "is." Harris seems to think this can be done.

2) Craig's metaethical argument for the existence of God.

I hope you enjoy watching this debate. After taking my class you should be able to understand a number of things going on in the debate that you would not have been able to comprehend when our class began.

In our April 24 class I will ask for your responses to the debate.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

You Are a Micro-Self

Me with friends Lee Davis and Jon Standifer

Thomas Merton writes: "I think the chief reason why we have so little joy is that we take ourselves too seriously. Joy can only be real if it is based on truth... [The]  starting point is the truth of our own insignificance in comparison with God. To penetrate the truth of how utterly unimportant we are is the only thing that can set us free to enjoy true happiness." (The Sign of Jonas)

"We take ourselves too seriously." Take God seriously, not your own self. The world does not revolve around you, but around God.

Joy turns into frustration and anguish when life is all about "you." Do not water the flower of your own self so that you might bloom before others. Lighten up about you. Your reputation is unimportant; God's honor is all-important.

Pray that people might find God, not you, because you are not such a big deal. God is a big deal. To be free of the cultivation of one's own persona is the gateway to joy. If through you we see God, that will be cool. Much better for us to see and find God than to see you.

We are insignificant in comparison with God. Out of the seven billion people on earth, not one of them is now thinking about you. To the world, you are a non-issue.

OK, maybe there's one person who, right now, thinks of you, of how beautiful you are, or of how intelligent and creative you are. Probably one or 2 or 10 people love you and think of you, now. And maybe there's one person who is now angry with you and hates you and thinks of how ignorant and irritating you are.

The statistically overwhelming majority of people (99.999999% of them) do not even know you exist; hence, ipso facto, they are not thinking of you. To the world and in this world you are near-totally insignificant.

God, on the other hand, is significant. In this moment, right now, many are seeking God, being found by God, questioning God, asking from God, arguing against God's existence, saying the name of God, worshiping God, ignoring God, reading about God, dreaming about God, standing in awe of God, saying God's name (not your's) in vain, singing God's name (not your's) in praise, writing about God, basking in God's presence, questioning God's absence, cursing God, and thanking God. God has been, is, and always will be the focal issue, the central Person, in life. God is the sun around which this world revolves; you and I are specks on that world. Is all this not true? And does not this truth and its realization set you free?

"To penetrate the truth of how utterly unimportant we are is the only thing that can set us free to enjoy true happiness."

Now, as you take this breath, God is going after all persons, including you, with a love that knows no limits, with a pursuit that is forceful and specific and effective. In your condition of great insignificance and worldly-nonattention the God who is creator of all and of you comes to you, personally, and whispers, "I love YOU." Let these words settle into the secret places of your heart; this becomes the moment of freedom and joy.

Psalm 8:4 says: "I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way? " (The Message) Who am I, God, that you are mindful of me? And yet You are.

You are a micro-self.
God is thinking of you.

Ephesians 6:10-20

Detroit Institute of Arts

This morning at Redeemer I spoke on Ephesians 6:10-12.

Next Sunday morning: Ephesians 6:13-20.

I'll be carrying these verses with me all week. I am going to meditate on them. That is, I am going to say them over and over and over... and over again.

Redeemer family - I invite you to do this with me. Others - please join too if you like!

When God speaks to me, I'm going to write down what he says in my journal. If you do this along with me, write down what God says to you. E-mail it to me if you feel led. (johnpiippo@msn.com)

Then, I am going to study the text, using excellent commentaries that assist me in determining how the text would have been heard, by the Ephesian hearers in the first century.

Then, ...

on Sunday morning April 28,

with God's help,

I am going to preach it.

Speaking at a Retreat for Pastors

Lake Erie - Sterling State Park

I'm traveling to Lansing, Michigan tonight to speak at a pastors retreat Monday and Tuesday. 40 American Baptist pastors will be there. A few of them are long-time friends of mine - I look forward to seeing them!

I'll be teaching my spiritual formation material, in the way God has led me to do this.

Presence, Absence, and Rescue

Ann Arbor

We have been rescued, therefore we rescue.

Here is a typical day for me, as I recorded it in my journal several months ago.

"Today has been a series of rescue missions: a marriage where husband and wife have drifted far apart; a homeless man drowning in his alcoholism; a young person wanting to end it all and a desperate parent trying to stop her from doing it; a mother grieving the death of her son. All this, and some more, and it's only two in the afternoon. Now I'm going out alone to spend 4-5 hours praying. That, too, is part of the rescue effort going on today."

Henri Nouwen talks about having a ministry of presence and a ministry of absence. My time spent with others can be a ministry of presence; my time alone with God is a ministry of absence. This is about discernment, about knowing when to be with people and when not to be with people. Jesus hung with the crowds, and then disappeared to that "lonely place" where it was just him and the Father. There's a time to be with people, and a time to be apart from people. A time to talk with people, a time to pray for people.

To rescue people both are needed. But the ministry of absence seems wrong. How can we help someone if we are not always there with them? This question grows out of the failure to realize what every rescuee most needs. What the hurting, suffering person needs is not us, but God. What they need is to be found by God and cling to the life preserver he tosses into the ocean of their despair. God can and does use us in the process. Sometimes we are that life preserver, tossed by God into the sea of trouble. But it does not all depend on us. Our constant hovering over people can, at times, be detrimental to what God wants to do.

Exercising a ministry of absence teaches us to trust that God is the one who rescues, and not us. In our alone-times with God he will break us of the "illusion of our indispensability," and release us into trusting in his greater love for the troubled. We can rest in the truth that, if this marriage gets reconciled, then the credit will go to God and not us. One wants to be with the suicidal person every moment, coach the alcoholic 24/7, hold on to the grieving heart continually, and to give non-stop advice to the imprisoned marriage. Those impulses can be indicative of a failure to trust.

At Redeemer we sing a worship song called "You Came to My Rescue." It has a line that says, "I called, You answered, and You came to my rescue." I love that line! Every time I sing it I think of my own rescue. God was working in my heart way before some person spoke to me about Jesus, and way after they spoke to me. The person who introduced me to Jesus was not with me during the struggle for my soul, as I was coming to a decision, which was finalized as I walked alone down a street in DeKalb, Illinois. Love came down and rescued me. My life was forever changed. I became a person who wanted to help others. Is anything more fulfilling?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Escaping From Folk (Faux) Christianity

Downtown Monroe

In our attempts to introduce people to the Real Jesus we battle against a number of folk beliefs that have little or no connection to the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Here are some "folk Christian" things I see, followed by a few methodological considerations.

Folk (faux) Christian ideas include:
  • The "prosperity Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus wants to make you rich, as if that were on his kingdom-expanding agenda. The Son of Man didn't even have a roof over his head, remember? Haven't you read that everything Jesus says about money is negative? Money, said Jesus, is an alternative god.
  • The "drug Jesus"; viz., the idea that we can "smoke a little Jesus" and get high on Jesus and that abiding in Jesus is somehow analogical, physically and mentally, to drug-induced highs. I used to drug out and get high. I feel insulted when a comparison is made between being filled with the spirit and being high on drugs. Are you kidding me?
  • The "alcoholic Jesus"; viz., the idea that "getting drunk on Jesus" is like an alcoholic drunk who staggers around incoherently and just generally makes a fool of himself and alienates himself from other sober people (as if that was the kind of behavior seen in the early church when they were accused of drunkenness, which of course it was not). In Acts 2 it's true that people thought the Jesus-followers were drunk, but it was because they were speaking in other languages, not because they were staggering around and falling into gutters like a bunch of alcoholics. It's hard enough to understand the slurred speech of a drunk much less add them speaking French or Coptic. Haven't you heard that part of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control?
  • The "rule-concerned Jesus"; viz., the idea that, e.g., the clothes we wear are either especially displeasing or pleasing to God; that wearing hats and slacks in the sanctuary is hated by God; that Jesus is primarily concerned with external physical appearance at all. Jesus looks on the human heart, not the clothes or the hairstyles or hats of people. Read the Gospels and see the Real Jesus battling against such Pharisaical legalism.
  • The "hymn-singing Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus was especially fond of the "old hymns," with "old" meaning the 19th century in Europe and America. Jesus didn't sing the old hymns, because he lived 1800 years before them. 
  • The "orderly Jesus": viz.,  the idea that Jesus is really concerned about the length of religious services and especially bent out of shape when the service "runs too long." What difference does time make if God is in the House? If God actually showed up in our houses of worship people (not all) would hang around. Remember that Jesus never followed "Robert's Rules of Order," and that the Greek word for 'Holy Spirit' is not 'Robert.'
  • The "pageantry Jesus"; viz., the Jesus who desires that buku bucks be spent on lavish, panoramic church programs that entertain "audiences" of people. Remember that Jesus and his disciples had very little money, and what $$$ they actually had was not used on "ministry programs." Jesus didn't need money to be effective.
  • The "mega Jesus"; viz., the idea that size = relevance as regards God's Kingdom, and that size is needed to change the world. Remember John 6:66, where the True Church gets downsized because it's hard to follow Jesus through the narrow gate.
  • The "balanced Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus came to show us how to balance our lives (while in actuality the Jesus-life is fundamentally imbalanced, with the love of God encompassing all things). The Real Jesus lived and lives a very unbalanced life.
  • The "non-7-11 Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus despises repetition (7 verses sung 11 times) in worship singing. Remember that tribal worship is repetitive, and Hebrew culture was tribal. Repetitive worship functions as a form of meditation which is, precisely and essentially, repetitive. Jesus isn't angry when we repeat "Yes Lord, Yes Lord" over and over and over again, right?
  • The "butler Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus is a divine butler sent to satisfy all our human goals and the establishing of our own personal kingdoms. This is the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that U. of  Notre Dame's Christian Smith has told us about. It's the religion of choice among a lot of adolescents today. But it's not Jesus. Not at all.
  • The "political Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus places his hope in nations and political systems, and that our hope is in achieving "Christian nations." Recall that Jesus is the one who refused the offer of forming a Christian nation when he was tempted by Satan. Remember that Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world."
  • The "American Jesus"; viz., the idea that "America" is the summum bonum of Jesus' plans and purposes (while saying, again, that his kingdom is not of this world... not at all). Note that whatever positive Christian influence America may have had has been lost - see Philip Jenkins's important The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. 
  • The "rule-giving Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus came not to set us free, but to pile on more rules for us to follow, thus increasing our current oppressed condition. 
  • The "King James Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus himself spoke in King James English and anyone who reads the Christian Scriptures, even in their original autographs, has just purchased a ticket to hell. Note that no biblical scholar worthy of the title looks to the KJV as the standard of accuracy. While the KJV is wonderful and has been greatly used by God, the original manuscripts are what scholars do and should study. And yes, we do (inductively) have access to them.
  • The "striving Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus did what he did and said what he said because he tried a lot harder than we do. Remember what Jesus said about himself in John 14-16, and his teachings there on remaining/dwelling/abiding in the perichoretic Triune unity of the Godhead. Abide "in the Father," not "strive."
  • The "make a decision Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus wants us to make some decision for him, and then live like hell. As if that was the essence of "salvation" (getting sozo-ed). Praise God that "salvation" is a huge, vast idea that involves way more than "making a decision." 
  • The "angry-at-you Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus gets really ticked off at you and at times is in a very bad mood regarding you, and then appoints religious fault-finding people to point this out to you and judge you and condemn you. How about this as an alternative: Jesus loves you. This you know. For the Bible tells you so. Little ones to Him belong. You are weak. He is strong.
  • The "formulaic Jesus"; viz., the idea that there are a series of steps involved in the real following of Jesus. Remember that it's all about relationship with Jesus, and relationships can never be reduced to a mere formula.
  • The hipster Jesus; viz., the idea that Jesus is just the coolest thing or person out there who would wear hipster clothes and listen to hipster music and ghettoize himself if he walked the earth today. Please note: there is not an ounce of trendiness in the real Jesus. Jesus didn't have or want or impart the "shopping anointing." That's part of what makes Jesus stand out, and why he is so different, and so radical. Jesus isn't cool. Jesus imitates no one. He's either your enemy, come to overthrow the rule of self, or he's your Lord and God. 
A Few Methodological Considerations in the Quest to Escape Folk Christianity and Follow the Real Jesus

  • Read the 4 Gospels. There you will encounter the Real Jesus
  • Read the Pauline letters as further complementary and supplementary revelation about the Real Jesus
  • Identify core elements of the Real Jesus. For example, Jesus warns us about money, and has a preferential option for the poor.
  • Interpret following Jesus through his basic message, which is the message of the kingdom of God/heaven. To know Jesus, everything stands or falls with this.
  • Discern nationalistic, ethnic, and temporal frameworks that spin the Real Jesus in the wrong way.
  • Be in daily relationship with Jesus (see John 14-17).
  • Soak yourself in Jesus' words in Matthew 5-7 (the incredible "Sermon on the Mount").
  • Hang around and fellowship with people who, above all, want Jesus and his kingdom.
  • Finally, never presume to have the final word on Jesus. History is filled with good people who put a spin on Jesus that we now see to be historically conditioned. Probably you and I are doing that to some extent, too.

Live the Imbalanced Life

Life, for Jesus, was not some balancing act.  Nor should it be for us. Life is not a pie graph cut into pieces, the purpose of which is to ensure that every piece gets equal attention: God, church, prayer, work, kids, play, exercise, paying bills, the golf game, etc. etc. Life is not a check-list of "to do" items. Jesus's "to do" list had one item only: God. If we do that One Thing, all other things shall be added unto us.

Jesus did not come to show us how to "balance our lives." Jesus wants the whole pie, all 100% of it. Life is to be lived from that perspective. "All" is to be given in love and worship and service to God. If your heart was a pie, then love the Lord your God with the whole thing, and not just a slice. Don't save any of it for yourself.

Hebrew culture didn't think in terms of pie graphs. People of that time thought hierarchically. Kings deserve 100% worship and allegiance; women, children, and beggars deserve nothing. Jesus, in what is called the "upside-down kingdom" or "Great Reversal," reverses the hierarchy, shockingly so. The Real King comes to us born an "expendable." The Real King is a non-person dying on a cross. All kingdom Jesus-activity is to be understood, not from the perspective of an equally sliced pie, but from an honor-shame hierarchy. Jesus didn't compartmentalize his life and, in addition, find time to give a sacrificial slice for us. As Greg Boyd has recently written, Jesus's entire lifestyle was an act of revolt against the powers of darkness, done in love, for us. (Greg Boyd, "The Ground-Level Deliverance Model," in James Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views)

Hierarchies prioritize. Prioritize your life. Expend life on the Important Thing. Be pruned of the unimportant. The King has come to you. Give all your heart, soul, mind, strength, life, time, money, talents, in sacrifice to him and the cause of his Kingdom. Live life out of balance.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Spiritual Warfare at Redeemer - This Sunday

Gary Wilson, artist

This Sunday at Redeemer I'm preaching from Ephesians 6:10-12, which reads:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil 
in the heavenly realms.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Super-glued to God in the Act of Prayer

A circle of prayer

Stanley Grenz wrote, in 2004, that "prayer is the greatest challenge to the church today." (Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom, 1) A lot of church energy and effort is placed on raising money and installing programs. Prayer, on the other hand, requires no money and is non-programmatic since it is, essentially, a relationship with God. Poor people and poor churches can pray. Indeed, such communities do pray. When Jesus says, in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, their blessedness lies in their need for connection with God. 

Look at the poor, program-barren, building-less first-century church. "The first-century community is a model of a praying church. The book of Acts presents the early church as a praying people. Already in the days prior to Pentecost, the Lord's disciples were devoted to prayer. Luke describes the upper-room experience as marked by continual prayer. In obedience to the command of Jesus (Acts 1:8), "they all joined together constantly in prayer" (Acts 1:14)."

After Pentecost, the praying community continued. It wasn't like they were thinking, "Well, we prayed. The Big Event happened. Now we can lighten up on this praying-thing since we're so busy we don't have time to pray." Instead I imagine they might have been thinking more like this: "Wow - prayer is a God-relationship that does things." In the language of philosopher J.L. Austin, prayer is a performative speech-act having illocutionary force. (See Austin, How to Do Things with Words)

We read:

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer... Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God... (Acts 2:42, 46-47)

These first Jesus-followers were devoted to praying. In Greek Acts 2:42 reads:

ἦσαν δὲ προσκαρτεροῦντες τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ, τῇ κλάσειτοῦ ἄρτου καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς. 

I've underlined the word we translated as "devoted." Here's the meaning:

προσκαρτερέω,v  \{pros-kar-ter-eh'-o}
1) to adhere to one, be his adherent, to be devoted or constant to one  2) to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing  3) to continue all the time in a place  4) to persevere and not to faint  5) to show one's self courageous for  6) to be in constant readiness for one, wait on constantly

To "adhere" to prayer. To be an adhesive, stuck to a life of prayer and praying. Super-glued to God, in the act of prayer. There are consequences.

(If you want to join me for Prayer Summer, shoot me an e-mail - johnpiippo@msn.com. Details forthcoming.)