Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Hebrews Living and Active" at Redeemer

From Tim Curry:

Our study of Hebrews has taken us to brilliant high points of New Testament Christology and shaken us to the core with its terrifying warnings. I've often wondered, "What did it feel like for those early Christians to hear this letter for the first time?" 

Incredibly, the church that first heard this letter probably heard the entire letter in one sitting. On Sunday, August 10th at 7 pm in the sanctuary, we will set up an open-air tent in a portion of the sanctuary for a "house church" feel,   take communion, sing hymns, and experience the whole letter. We will even throw in some persecuting hecklers to get a sense of the hostility this church faced. 

Afterwards, He Brews Coffee-talk: Discussing an Evening with the Epistle. Doesn't that sound like fun? 

At Redeemer in Monroe
5305 Evergreen

Atheists Turning On each Other With the Ferocity of Religious Zealots

See: "Now that Richard Dawkins is attacking Muslims and feminists, the atheist Left suddenly discover he’s a bigot." In The Spectator.

Damian Thompson writes:

"Dawkins has...  widened his attack on blind faith, as he sees it, to include Muslims and feminists.
In the process, he’s exposed a rich vein of hypocrisy in the Left — and, more significantly, an intellectual rift between hard-line and multiculturalist atheists. That rift is growing fast: non-believers, having exhausted their anti-Christian rhetoric, are turning on each other with the ferocity of religious zealots. Enjoy."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Anne Graham Lotz's Call for the Church to Repent and Pray

I have long respected Anne Graham Lotz. After watching her message at the 2014 National Day of Prayer my respect increased.

This is for Jesus-followers only. 

I am listening...

More on Atheistic China's Evil Persecution of Christians

Atheistic China cannot tolerate religions. So it persecutes God-believers to discourage and eradicate them.

See "COMMENTARY: China's Grim Religious Freedom problem."

"Living the Presence-Driven Life" Conference in New Jersey - This Weekend

This Friday-Saturday-Sunday I am preaching/teaching at a conference in Edison, New Jersey. Here's the schedule. 

o   Fri Night, August 1 - Leading the Presence-Driven Life – Exodus 33:15-16
o   Saturday morning, August 2 – Spiritual Formation & Transformation Workshop
o   Saturday Night, August 2 – Humility: The Foundational Attitude of the Presence-Driven Life – James 4:6
o   Sunday Morning, August 3 – Abiding in Christ: The Place of the Presence-Driven Life – John 15:1-4
o   Sunday Evening, August 3 – Blessings and Curses – Breaking Blockages to the Presence-Driven Life – Hebrews 11:20-22

Where: Stelton Baptist Church, Edison, New Jersey
334 Plainfield Ave.

Here's the flyer

Roger Scruton, The Liar's Paradox, & Evolutionary Theorizing

Monroe County

I'm reading philosopher Roger Scruton's The Soul of the World. Scruton reasons in the way Alvin Plantinga does; viz., by showing how the idea that evolutionary theory explains all behavior is self-contradictory when expected to explain the behavior of theorizing about evolution. 

Scruton writes:

"The theory of evolution is itself a scientific theory. We have reason to believe it only because we trust that the directedness of our thinking is not an accidental by-product of the evolutionary process but an independent guide to the way things are, whose credentials go beyond its adaptive benefits. The theory of evolution may seem to offer an outside view of science. But it is written in the language of science. If the theory really did offer an outside view, then it could conceivably have led to the conclusion that false beliefs have a better survival value than true ones, and therefore that all our beliefs are likely to be false. But what then of the theory that tells us so? If true, it is likely to be false. In other words , if we attempt to reach the high ground of naturalism by this route, we encounter a version of the liar paradox : an obstacle to which there is only one response— turn back!" 
- Roger Scruton, The Soul of the World, Kindle Locations 163-169, Princeton University Press. 

The Liar's Paradox goes like this.

If I utter the statement "I am lying," then if this statement is true then I am not telling the truth, which means it is false that I am lying and therefore am not telling the truth. Which is absurd. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Atheistic China's Persecution of Christians

Atheistic governments have a history of doing evil. For example, China. See yesterday's nytimes article "China removes Crosses from Two More Churches in Crackdown."

Chinese authorities have issued demolition notices to more than 100 churches in China's Zhejiang Province. 

"On Friday, congregants at the Wenling Church in the city of Taizhou faced off with as many as 4,000 police officers but failed to prevent the removal of two crosses from atop their building. One congregant said as many as 40 people were detained during the standoff."

In China the growing number of Jesus-followers is equaling the number of atheistic Maoists. "Church leaders and analysts say the battle in Zhejiang, one of China’s wealthiest provinces, highlights the Chinese leadership’s discomfort with the growing allure of Christianity, whose adherents are said to rival in number the 86 million members of the Communist Party."

Here's a picture of the Wenling Church as their cross is removed.

While this was happening hundreds of Christians sang hymns as the atheistic government riot police surrounded the church. Some of the riot police were wearing red armbands, just like the red guards during the Cultural revolution.

"Across Zhejiang, scores of congregations have organized round-the-clock lookout teams to watch for arriving demolition crews. At Salvation Church in Wenzhou, more than 100 parishioners have been standing sentinel since July 21, when a pitched battle between the police and congregants left more than 50 parishioners injured, some seriously. Although the director of the church, facing intense government pressure, said he would allow the cross to be removed, congregants have vowed to resist."

"A similar scene unfolded on Monday at the Longgang Township Gratitude Church. Mr. Qu, the pastor from the nearby church, said about 200 people, some in their 70s and 80s, who were holding a vigil in front of the church ultimately stepped aside to allow the police to move when they arrived with a bulldozer.
After more than two hours, the cross was lowered by crane and handed over to the parishioners, who carried it back into the church. “Many of them were weeping inconsolably,” Mr. Qu said."

Praying In the Place of Jesus (Prayer Summer 2014)

Photo: Wilberforce, Ohio
Wilberforce, Ohio
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has written a deep, beautiful piece on prayer in The Christian Century - "In the Place of Jesus: Insights from Origen on Prayer." Praying is not simply another tool in our spiritual toolkit. Praying is growing into what Paul calls "the measure of the full stature of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13)

Praying is standing where Jesus stands, seeing what Jesus sees, hearing what Jesus hears. 

Jesus taught his followers to address God as "Our Father." Note the little word "our." This is Jesus and me, before the God of us. Just as Jesus cries out "Abba, Father" (Mark 14:36), so are we invited to do the same (Galatians 4:6). Williams writes:

"It seems that all Christian reflection, all theology worth the name, began as people realized that because of Jesus Christ they could talk to God in a different way."

When we pray we do so in the presence of God. But it also seems right to pray putting ourselves in the place of Jesus. This "sounds appallingly ambitious, even presumptuous, but that is actually what the New Testament suggests we do. Jesus speaks to God for us, but we speak to God in him." 

Williams writes:

"That, in a nutshell, is prayer—letting Jesus pray in you and beginning that lengthy and often very tough process by which our selfish thoughts and ideals and hopes are gradually aligned with his eternal action, just as, in his own earthly life, his human fears and hopes and desires and emotions are put into the context of his love for the Father, woven into his eternal relation with the Father—even in that moment of supreme pain and mental agony that he endures the night before his death."

When Jesus instructs us to pray "Our Father" he is asking us to stand where he stands. "Everything is bathed in the light of that relationship." 

This means that prayer is always "in Jesus," not "to Jesus." Early church Fathers such as Origen understood it this way. The Pauline theological redundancy that as Jesus-followers we are "in Christ" expresses this new relationship. Therefore pray, in Christ.

As you pray you stand where Jesus stands, praying in the place of Jesus.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Where Prayer Converts to Worship (Prayer Summer 2014)

My backyard

I was born in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. To me the U.P. with its vast forests, lakes, many waterfalls, and Lake Superior and Lake Michigan shoreline is beautiful. More than beautiful, I see this as a "creation," fashioned by God.

This world is a creation of God. I look on the world and think of God. Seeing this way, I find God's handiwork everywhere. All I need to do is walk into my backyard or the park across the street to experience God's reflected glory. 

This deeply affects how I pray. I see and experience God as greater, and myself as a beloved creation of our great God.

When possible I pray outside, or at least looking through a window upon the creation. Often, at night when it is dark and before I go to sleep, I step outside and look up. I do this even in the coldest weather! My praying at this point becomes mostly giving praise and glory and expressed wonder to the One responsible for all this.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Psalm 19:1

I ride my bike to Lake Erie and sit on a bench with my journal and Bible next to me. As I am surrounded by the sights and sounds of water, fields, trees and varieties of birds I pray it all in, mind-body-spirit-soul. Praying in this environment heals my troubled heart, cures my self-obsession, and restores my focus. 

Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.
Revelation 14:7

True lovers of God's creation find beauty wherever they look. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is no more stunning than my backyard. I learned this from praying everywhere, and from a book like Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

If possible, pray outside today. This is where prayer converts to worship.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Praying in the Tent of Unfamiliarity (Prayer Summer 2014)

Monroe County

In my spiritual formation classes my main assignment is: go apart to a "lonely place" for one hour a day, five days a week, and pray. We read that Jesus had the habit of going early in the morning to a "place apart" to pray: Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 6:17)

These "lonely places" are, for us today, away from our homes, church buildings, cell phones, and places of work. Praying in a lonely place gives one a spiritual edge because distractions have been minimized. All the stuff that defines us and calls for our attention are missing, freeing us to better attend to the Lord. In my Monroe community I have several such lonely places. I'm going to one today, to attend.

Francis Frangipane, in "The Tent of Meeting," calls the lonely prayer place "the place of unfamiliarity." (Frangipane, And I Will Be Found By You, Ch. 1) He uses Exodus 33:7 to illustrate: 

 Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, 
calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go 
to the tent of meeting outside the camp.

The "camp" was "the camp of familiarity." The tent of meeting (meeting God) was outside the camp of familiarity. Everyone who sought the Lord would "go out." Frangipane writes: "If we are going to truly seek the Lord we must "go out" as did Moses" and others did. (13) "We must pitch our tent 'a good distance from the camp'." Moses knew that "our human nature is governed by the influences of the familiar. If He is to expand us to receive the eternal, He must rescue us from the limitations of the temporal." (Ib.)

Those who seek after God and His presence will find the time to do this. We find time for what we desire. Desire always leads to finding time; those who don't find time to get alone with God in the tent of meeting don't desire. Such desire cannot be manufactured. One either has it or one does not. When it is there, it is a gift from God. Such people are aflame with the need for God and His earth-shattering presence.

I like how Frangipane expresses this. He writes:

"If we set our priorities right, we will discover that God has given everyone enough time to seek Him. After having done what love would have us do for our families, we simply say "no" to every other voice but God's. We redeem our time: cancel hobbies, forsake television and the Internet, put away the newspapers and magazines. Those who truly desire God - find time." (13-14)

What sort of spiritual creature would desire the Internet more than God? One answer: someone who has not yet been introduced to God, by experience. In this way my spiritual formation classes serve as an introduction or re-introduction to God.

All who desire God will today be found praying in the tent of unfamiliarity, the tent of meeting.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tom Petty's Historical Ignorance

In today's USA Today Tom Petty is interviewed about his new album. Petty says it's a "moral album."

Petty gets this part very wrong as he states: "Religions caused most every war that's gone down." How absurd and misinformed. For many reasons, to include historical ignorance. See here, for example. 

Payne Theological Seminary Spiritual Formation Class July 2014

What a beautiful class this is. (Sorry V & K that you missed being in this photo.)

Payne Theological Seminary Spiritual Formation Class July 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Spiritual Formation - The Gap


The first stage in spiritual formation and transformation is the recognition of how needy you are. (The Need.)

The second stage is the recognition of the magnitude of the transformation. God wants to form Christ in you. (Gal. 4:19) This is no small or ordinary thing.

I like the scene in Isaiah 6 where Isaiah, arguably the most righteous person in Israel, enters the temple and gets a glimpse of a holy God. Isaiah’s response is a prophetic one; he pronounces doom upon his own being. “Woe is me! I am undone! I am dis-integrated! I thought I was a man of integrity. Now I see I am a man with a dirty mouth.”

Isaiah sees the holiness of God. “Holiness” is not another attribute of God. To call God “holy” is to express the “otherness” of God. God, as Supreme Being, is “set apart” from all other beings. There is no one like God.

God is different. God’s difference is expressed in his all-knowingness, all-powerfulness, and all-loving nature. This is, understatedly, different from you and I. To see this is necessarily to be “undone.”

I love to play basketball. In high school I was good enough to make the team, but not good enough to start. There were a few years when I lived and breathed basketball. And, in my own little circle of basketball-playing friends, at times I thought I was pretty good. I still like to shoot around, even though at age 62 I can no longer run (what I do should never be called “running”) and have no hang time. I just “hang.”

Now imagine this. I am young again, and in my basketball-playing prime. A few people think I’m good. We’re in the gym. I am scoring points. In walks Michael Jordan, in his prime. We all stop. We’re stunned. He asks, “May I play?” We let him. He decides to guard me. I say, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean basketball-playing!” Jordan’s playing is “holy.” Different. Set apart. Not just a “cut above,” but “beyond.” His skills are transcendent. I am on earth, thou art in heaven.

The difference between Michael Jordan’s basketball skills and mine (and yours) is minor compared to the difference between us and Christ. This difference must be recognized, and should not be minimized. It is jaw-droppingly real. Jesus is different.

This often comes as an epiphany, a revelation, an illumination. The Great Realization. The ultimate “O My God!” happening. This is needed, and it is good. As this happens the prospect of spiritual metamorphosis is positive. But without it, we’re left with the variety of human will power and self-transformation strategies. It is instructive to note that one cannot self-morph into Christlikeness. To think so is to trivialize Christ.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Spiritual Formation - The Need

RR bridge in Monroe

Step #1 to spiritual formation and transformation is: Realize how needy you are.

I received the gift of a Bela Fleck dvd, inserted into the player, and sat down to watch, in awe. I was not prepared to be awed, but I was. I had thought I was a guitar player!

I began playing guitar when I was five years old. I did a two year degree in music theory on my way to, I envisioned, a full-time musical career. I taught guitar in the music studio owned by Rick Nielsen’s father in my hometown of Rockford, Illinois. I’ve written songs, published them, had them recorded by other artists, played on TV, practiced a million hours and given tons of lessons. But I cannot play like Bela Fleck. As I watched him I thought, in an Isaiah 6 moment, “I am a man of unclean guitar playing.” I am in need.

So are you. We’re all a bunch of very needy people. My fellow musician and songwriter David once wrote, “Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay” (Ps. 40:17) We all need guidance. We all need direction. We all need help, in this life. It is a good thing to recognize one’s neediness. This realization puts one in position to be guided, directed, and helped. Only the needy know they need a shepherd. Only those who realize their need for guidance can be guided.

In a moment of God-inspired musical genius David wrote the first line to arguably the greatest worship song ever written. Out of his neediness David wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd.” All of David’s own talents were not enough. As brilliant as King David was, his own intelligence did not suffice. As courageous as he was, he still struggled with fear. David, the greatest King and leader Israel ever had, knew that he needed to be led. He needed a shepherd. And for that, David chose well.

In the seminary classes I teach on spiritual formation I send my students out for times of prayer, using Psalm 23 as their meditative focus. I instruct them: “When God speaks to you, write it down.” My experience is that God doesn’t let 40% of them get past verse 1. God asks them the question: “Am I really your shepherd?” That is the foundational question for all spiritual formation, transformation, renewal, and restoration. The answer to that question determines whether a person’s life and ministry will be authentic or inauthentic, relevant or irrelevant. This is because unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain; unless we are shepherded by God, we’re shepherded by some other god (like self; others; money; sex; power). The key question of the spiritual life is, as Henri Nouwen said: Who do you belong to?

The necessary precondition for authentic, relevant God-leadership is: being-led. To lead is to be led. To be led one must heart-recognize one’s great neediness. This is, spiritually, a very good place to be. How do we come to understand this?

I don’t think you can force this idea on people. The heart-recognition of personal neediness is given to people as a revelation. You cannot command this for others. It’s a revelation, a wakeup call, that God desires us all to have, but which all do not see. But if one consistently abides in God’s presence, God himself will show you this. He will burst the bubble of your self-greatness and the illuision of independence. It will be like me, popping in the dvd, thinking I’ve got my guitar-playing in a powerful place, watching Bela Fleck begin to play, and then comes the revelation of personal guitar-neediness.

In the spiritual life neediness is cool; self-reliance sucks. If I really wanted to play like Bela Fleck I’d need Bela Fleck to shepherd me. If I really want to be used by God I need to be constantly shepherded by God.

Pray for a revelation of personal neediness. God wants to reveal this to you. He will, as you spend time with him. Your spiritual life and effectiveness for the sake of God and his Kingdom are at stake.

Living the Presence-Driven Life - Edison, New Jersey, Aug. 1-2-3

Linda and I will be in Edison, New Jersey, August 1-2-3.

In Prayer, Listening Precedes Doing (Prayer Summer 2014)

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

A lot of what I do in life comes out of my prayer life.

Doing needs to come from being, and not vice versa. All relevant "doing" comes from abiding in Christ. Thus relevant doing is called:obedience. Doing for doing's sake is non-obedience.

"Obedience" has the Latin root audere in it, from which we get our English word "audio." Obedient "doing" is audio-relevant. It comes out of listening. Often, this happens as we pray. In prayer, listen. When directed, do. Listening precedes doing.

Don't "do things for God" without consulting  God first. Baptizing one's doings in prayer without being led by God to do those things is to move without God. I like how Thomas Merton expressed this. He writes:

"There are men dedicated to God whose lives are full of restlessness and who have no real desire to be alone. Interior solitude is impossible for them. They fear it. They do everything they can to escape it. What is worse, they try to draw everyone else in to activities as senseless and as devouring as their own. They are great promoters of useless work. They love to organize meetings and banquets and conferences and lectures. They print circulars, write letters, talk for hours on the telephone in order that they may gather a hundred people together in a large room where they will all fill the air with smoke and make a great deal of noise and roar at one another and clap their hands and stagger home at last, patting one another on the back with the assurance that they have all done great things to spread the Kingdom of God." (
New Seeds of Contemplation)
As you pray today focus on listening.

Spiritual Formation Posts 2010-2011

Payne Theological Seminary

Here are posts I made from 2010 - 2011 on the broad theme of Christian Spirituality. Which means things like: spiritual formation, spiritual renewal, spiritual transformation, spiritual restoration (all these terms are different!), corporate spirituality, discernment, cultural discernment, spirituality and the church, and some others.

Live Unveiled Before God