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
734-242-5277

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.
732-985-1484

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 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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Teaching Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary

1


Linda and I leave this morning for Dayton. I'll be teaching Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary Tues-Fri. I'm glad Linda is going to get some R&R!

I feel so privileged to teach at Payne. I have met many beautiful, Jesus-following African-American brothers and sisters. Payne is a great seminary, one of the oldest black seminaries in our nation (the oldest free-standing black seminary). 

In my Spiritual Formation class I will...
  • lead students in individual prayer-encounters with God
  • gather students in small groups to process what they hear God saying to them
  • present my Phenomenology of Spiritual Formation
  • present Howard Thurman's theology of spiritual formation
  • present Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's theology of prayer as foundational to leadership
  • share my ideas on Leading the Presence-Driven Church
This will be my ninth Spiritual Formation class at Payne. I've taught and made friends with 180 students. In the process I've engaged in ongoing African and African-American studies. I've learned so much from my studies, my students, and the faculty, staff, and culture of Payne Seminary.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Schedule Prayer Times (Prayer Summer 2014)

Pierce Stocking Drive, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

Every Tuesday afternoon for the past 35 years I have gone to a quiet place alone and prayed. Sometimes for 2 hours, sometimes as long as 6 hours. I pray at other times, but Tuesday afternoons have been my times with God.

Most Jesus-followers who have serious prayer lives have scheduled prayer into their life-rhythm. Henri Nouwen writes:

"Clock time can become sacred time. We can choose fifteen minutes, half an hour, or even a few hours, and set them aside for God. For a healthy physical, emotional, and spiritual life, we have to structure our time. We need to know beforehand when we will pray, when we will spend moments in spiritual reading, when we will participate in common worship , and so on. A rhythm of life in which sacred times and places are scheduled in gives us much spiritual support and causes us to look forward to them as “times of refreshing” for discernment."
Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, pp. 12-13

What began 35 years ago as a small stream has formed a neural river flowing from the throne of God. The river groove runs so deep that I cannot not-pray any longer. This is good. It has turned into (as I understand this) "praying without ceasing."

I always look forward to these extended, scheduled prayer times. They have become times of refreshing and discerning.

Write "Praying Time" into your calendar.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Preparing for Love

In three weeks we will begin preaching through the biblical book of 1 John at Redeemer. I am so excited about this! This is personal to me. Because my prayer for the past several years has been: "God, produce Your love in me so I might love as you do." Here are some love-thoughts as I am preparing for 1 John.

Love does Not Fashion Others Into One's Own Image

It is the height of arrogance, manipulation, and control to try to make other people into one's own image. I often meet people who try to make some significant other into a "normal" person like they are; into someone who thinks their thoughts, likes their likes, wants their wants, and desires their desires. Parents do this to children, friends do this to friends, lovers do this to their beloved. What is this evil thing that wants to live vicariously through other people?

Thomas Merton writes: “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

Real love lets the other be who they are, and champions them to be better than they both are. The one who can love someone just as they are is a sign of the lover's freedom. It's an insecure person who needs others to be just like them and agree with them on everything. The truth is that if both people agree on everything then one of them is not needed. That's precisely how the other will feel as the image-controller manipulates them.

Discover the reality of your own self, before God, in Christ.

Release other people to do the same.

Doing these things makes life lighter, more truthful, and more joy-filled.

Love Always Protects




στέγω,v \{steg'-o}
1) deck, thatch, to cover 1a) to protect or keep by covering, to preserve 2) to cover over with silence 2a) to keep secret 2b) to hide, conceal 2b1) of the errors and faults of others 3) by covering to keep off something which threatens, to bear up against, hold out against, and so endure, bear, forbear

Love always protects. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

In my late teens when I had a date with a girl I would be thinking "Will she have sex with me?" One time I was with this girl in the back seat of a car and started putting physical moves on her. She pushed my hand away. She wanted none of that. I didn't understand and tried to convince her otherwise. That was the last time she went out with me. 

Good for her! She requested something of me. I did not respect her request. Feeling disrespected, she wanted nothing more to do with me. I was so self-centered that the concepts of honor and respect were not part of my DNA. I did not know love or how to love and be loved. I did not understand that love always protects.

The Greek verb stego means "to bear." This does not mean love "bears up under things," but that "love bears all things up." "Love carries everything." (Lewis Smedes, Love Within Limits, 94) Lewis Smedes writes:

"Love hates a scandal... [L]ove drives us away from scandal for deeper reasons than propriety and good taste. Scandal hurts people; and love hates everything that hurts people. This is why a loving person is turned off by gossip and rumor - out of concern for the people being whispered about." (Ib., 95)

Love carries our sorrows. Love never causes more sorrow. "Sorrow is a suffering of the mind, the hurt of knowing that something is wrong." (Ib., 97) Love is a cure for, not a cause of, emotional pain. The girl who refused my sexual advances refused to be victimized by my disrespect of her.

To respect is to protect. Love always cares for the other, with no expectation of anything in return.

Love is Kind

There may be no better book to read on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 than Lewis Smedes' Love Within Limits: A Realist's View of 1 Corinthians 13.


Chapter 2 is - "Love is Kind."



Nietzsche, in one of his
gentler moments.
"Kindness," writes Smedes, "is the will to save; it is God's awesome power channeled into gentle healing. Kindness is love acting on persons." (11)

Love is power.

One quality of love is kindness.

Therefore kindness is power.

The German atheist philosopher Nietzsche did not take kindly to this. Nietzsche hated Christianity (and especially Paul) for promoting kindness, which he saw as weakness and door-mat-ness. But "kindness," says Smedes, "is enormous strength - more than most of us have, except now and then." (Ib.)

"Kindness is the power that moves us to support and heal someone who offers nothing in return. Kindness is the power to move a self-centered ego toward the weak, the ugly, the hurt, and to move that ego to invest itself in personal care with no expectation of reward." (Ib.)

Only a free person can love this way. When I ask God to "set me free" I am thinking precisely of this kind of thing; viz., freedom to love; freedom to be kind.

Love Is Not Jealous


I'm reading more of Lewis Smedes's beautiful extended meditation on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Love Within Limits: Realizing Selfless Love In a Selfish World. This is, I think, the best book I have ever read on Jesus-like love.

Love, among other things, is not jealous. Pray for freedom from the bondage of jealousy.

The reason agape (the biblical Greek word for "love" used in 1 Cor. 13) is not jealous is because "it is the power to move us toward another person with no expectation of reward - not even the reward of exclusive loving. That is why agape is not jealous." (23)

Jealousy is not the same as envy. Envy is the wish that we had something that belongs to someone else. "Envy" does not have pain associated with it. "The people we envy are not a threat to us; they only happen to have what we would like to have." (24) But jealousy "is aimed at someone who threatens us, threatens to take away someone we love." (24)

It's not just persons we can be jealous of; we can also be jealous of things. I have met wives whose husbands spend more time fishing than they do with them. These wives are jealous of the sport of fishing. This is the core reason pornography hurts and ruins a marriage. The wife wants her husband's eyes looking at her, not at other women. Of course the shoe can be on the other foot. A husband can be jealous of his wife's friends, or her family, or her job, or even their children if she spends more time with them than with him.

Smedes writes: "Jealousy and envy are different feelings... We envy without pain. Jealousy is the pain we feel when our role, our position, is threatened by someone close to us. Envy can stimulate us to try harder. jealousy stimulates us only to resentment of the person who does better." (25)

Linda and I have been married for 41 years (in less than one month!). I remember a time, 42 years ago, when I was at her house. I was falling in love with her. We were with her family when someone knocked on the door. It was one of Linda's old boyfriends! She stepped outside and talked with him. Feelings of jealousy flooded over me. As I was sitting there I looked on the table next to me and there was a little booklet entitled "How to Win Over Jealousy." God has a sense of humor, right? I began to read it.

When her old boyfriend left I asked Linda, "What did he want?" "I told him you and I were dating. He said 'OK,' but would you still like to go to a play with me?" As I heard that I lit up! I couldn't believe he would ask her out knowing she and I were in a relationship. Didn't I trust Linda? There was a lot of stuff inside me that needed healing.

Smedes says that "agape love transcends jealousy without destroying it." What does that mean? It means that the more possessive and controlling a person is, the more a normal, protective jealousy will turn cancerous. Jealous peple are controlling people.

Smedes writes: "If we have nothing else in the world to live for but our lover, we are vulnerable to the worst fits of jealousy. The person who tells someone else, "I can't live without you," is threatened at his deepest selfhood when the one with whom he cannot live has to be shared in thesmallest way. Such a person always suspects the worst, and this very suspicion prods him to cruel reactions... Agape does not let us give our souls to idols, even to the idol of the ideal husband or wife or friend... So agape will not let us be so deeply threatened that our very existence seems at stake." (28-29)

Linda and I have always told others that, if and when you marry, marry someone that can live without you, and you without them. The only One we cannot live without is Christ. Agape love is, says Smedes, "the power to admit cheerfully that you cannot meet all the needs of your loved one or friend and are pleased that someone else can add what you lack." (29)

Jealousy is painful, but with God it can be transcended.  "But where there is Christian love, the power of agapic giving and sharing will prevent jealousy from building barbed-wire fences of self-protection against any sharing of love and loved ones." (29) Agape love is, among other things, the power of sharing.

Pray for a heart filled to overflowing with Jesus-like agape love.


Love Requires a Predicate

With Dee, Stella, Holly, Debbie, and Trevor in Detroit
Love requires a predicate. 

"S loves p." As in: "S is in love with ____" (with p = "in love with ____"). "John loves Linda." A 'subject' loves a 'predicate'; in this example, a subject loves a person.

"The lover desires the beloved." Love, therefore, is other-centered. At its best and purest a lover loves the beloved in such a way that the beloved experiences being-loved. Real love is for the sake of the other, and not essentially for one's own self. Love serves the beloved. Where there is love the beloved's well-being is paramount.

"Love" is a relationship in which the predicate benefits at the expense of the subject. The subject spends itself on the predicate. When it's the other way around, when the subject benefits at the expense of the predicate, the predicate loses their personhood and becomes a mere object. "loves p" gets reduced to, simply, "S." The beloved loses their identity. This is the loopy logic of self-love, of "love" for the sake of one's self. The predicate is the subject. A strange self-reflexive loop is formed. This is the kind of "love" that is never satisfied. This is the "love" that leads to adulterous affairs, serial monogamy, and non-investment.

Thomas Merton writes: "The one love that always grows weary of its object and is never satisfied with anything and is always looking for something different and new is the love of ourselves. It is the source of all boredom and all restlessness and all unqiet and all misery and all unhappiness - ultimately, it is hell." (The Waters of Siloe) When no "predicates" satisfy the "subject" the reason is because the subject is an all-absorbing thing eats up love-objects like a dog devours a chunk of meat.

"S loves p" could be construed not as a subject-predicate statement but as a subject-object statement. What, precisely, in "S loves p," is predicated of S? Isn't p to be understood as the "object" of S's love and not a predicate that ascribes something to the subject? No and yes. 

No: p is not best understood as an "object" of S's love. Subject-object language implies relational distance, which "love" has nothing to do with. "Love," being essentially a connected-relational thing, speaks of oneness and unity rather than two-ness and distance. Two lovers "become one flesh." "One flesh" language resists the Cartesian ontological dichotomy between a knowing subject and an object which is to be known. 

Yes: because if love were an ontological union between the lover and the beloved both would disappear. Or, perhaps, the beloved would be absorbed into the lover. In this case "S loves _____" would become, simply, S. There is always a distance between lover and beloved, but the distance is not a Cartesian metaphysical distance. 

I think subject-predicate language better explains the love-relationship than does subject-object language. In the statement "The chalk is white," "whiteness" is predicated as an attribute of "chalk," and thus tells us something about a certain piece of "chalk." Analogously, to say "S lovesp" (or "S loves ____") tells us something about the being of S, instead of simply objectifying p.

The noetic framework that best accounts for the nature of real love as predicate-centered is Christian Trinitarian theism. The Christian idea of God as  "trinity" of Persons conceptually explains the idea that God is love. God, in his being, is love. Because we have a God who is a three-personed being sharing one essence, the love of God is not self-love. In the idea of God-as-Trinity Father, Son, and Spirit love one another throughout eternity. God's love is "predicative" and relational, rather than objectifying in the sense of Descartes and the influential Cartesian tradition

In John 14-17 Jesus extends to us the invitation to enter in to Trinitarian love. The love that ultimately satisfies, the love that provides the foundation of all earthly loves, the very source of love itself as other-centered, becomes ours. Real love requires a predicate because the God who is love is, in his essence, a lover of others. God is the author of the subject-predicate love that defines his very being.

Some Meditations on LOVE


















I will meditate today on "love."


  1. God is love. Love forms the very being of God. "Love" is an essential attribute of God. This means that God cannot not-love. Christian Trinitarian Theism best expresses this. God is a 3-personed being. God is, essentially, a being-in-relationship. God as Father-Son-Spirit makes conceptual sense of the idea that God is love. Because "love" is relational. "Love," to be love, requires an "other," an object to-be-loved.
  2. God cannot not-love you. This does not form some restriction on God. God does not love you because there is some command external to his being that he must follow. [Sorry "Euthyphro dilemma."] God is love, therefore all God's thoughts and actions are loving. God's love for you is genuine. When God thinks of you he has a good feeling. God likes you. You are God's child, his son or daughter. God made you, and what he has made God calls "very good." You are deeply loved by God. Nothing can ever change this.
  3. God expressed his love by coming to us, rather than making us seek to find him. God himself came, in the Son, to "sozo" us; i.e., to "save" us. Love came down to rescue us. "For God so loved the world..." Michael Brown et. al. write that the New Testament usage of sozo means "to rescue, save, deliver, preserve from danger, etc." (212) "James 5:15 in particular provides an excellent example of the holistic usage of sozo." (213) The sick person will be "raised up," forgiven, and "made well" (sozo). Sozo includes being healed, made whole, and delivered, and is applied not simply to individuals but to people groups and cultures. "Love" is  verb. Love is an intentional action.
  4. From God's POV love is "the greatest." The highest, in terms of value. Love is greater than power. In the being of God love is the raison d'etre of power. Jesus, in his humanity, accessed the power of the Father. Jesus' displays of power came out of his compassion, which is to say, out of his love. Paul follows up and expands on this theologically in 1 Corinthians 13. Without love, you are nothing.
  5. Love is not impatient. Love waits. Love waits for others. Love doesn't get ahead of others.
  6. Love is not unkind. Love never speaks un-loving words, for that would be the antithesis of love. Love speaks kindly.
  7. Love does not envy or boast. Love is free from human hierarchies of comparison. Love does not measure one's self against others.
  8. Love does not dishonor others. Which means: love looks to honor others before one's own self. Love does not go after self-honor. Love loves to see others get the honor. Love is free from the need to be in the spotlight. Love does not "upstage" others.
  9. Love is not self-seeking. Love does not seek after one's own self, but seeks after God and the well-being of others. Loves puts God first, and others second. Love is satisfied with taking third place, or not place at all.
  10. Love is not easily angered. Love doesn't get irritated or ticked off. Love isn't irritable or inconvenienced. Love is easily interruptible.  
  11. Love lets go of past offenses. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Because of this, love sleeps peacefully at night. There's no bitterness or resentment in love. To forgive others: this is one of love's greatest accomplishments.
  12. Love does not delight in evil. There's nothing evil does that makes love happy.
  13. Love does not rejoice with falsehood. Love rejoices with the truth. Love doesn't throw a party when "1+1=3."
  14. Love always protects. Love is responsible for the other. Love shelters. Love takes a bullet meant for the beloved.
  15. Love always trusts. This is because love trusts in God. Love is not naive or gullible because of this. Love doesn't trust an ax-murderer with an ax, but trusts that God is greater than he who is in the world.
  16. Love always hopes. Love expects, therefore love prepares.
  17. Love always perseveres. Love never gives up.
  18. Love never fails.
  19. Love is the thing that will last. Love ever-lasts. Therefore build your life on the everlasting foundation of love.
  20. Faith and hope are great things, but love is greater.
  21. We are to love one another. This is the mark of the real Jesus-follower. "See how they love one another." If we all were doing just this one thing the entire world would be revolutionized.
  22. We are even to love those who are against us. We are to love our enemies. Love doesn't get any more radical than this. This is the "Mt. Everest" of love; love's summum bonum. When love displays itself this way the earth trembles, the heavens open, jaws drop, eyes open, and skeptics reconsider.
  23. If you love Jesus, then you will keep his commands. And one of his commands is: Love your enemies. Here logic kicks in. Modus ponens1. If A, then B. 2. A. 3. Therefore, B. Such as: 1. If it rains, then the ground gets wet. 2. It is raining. 3. Therefore, the ground gets wet. Such as: 1. If you love Jesus, then you will keep his commands. 2. You love Jesus. 3. Therefore, you keep his commands. Including the commands to love God, love one another, and love one's enemies. Just as surely as the rain causes the ground to get wet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Unceasing Praying Is an Environment (Prayer Summer 2014)

Sunrise on Lake Erie

Pray continually.

Pray without ceasing.

Pray all the time.

1 Thessalonians 5:17

What can Paul mean when he challenges us to a life of continual praying? Here is one way to look at this.

When I discipline my life to include longer blocks of time to pray there begins to develop in my mind and heart a growing propensity to pray. Like a singer who rehearses a song over and over many times and finds themselves humming the song when not rehearsing, much engagement in praying produces residual praying experience. That is, the discipline of praying a half hour a day causes praying to reside in the praying person's heart.

Howard Thurman expresses it like this:

"The experience of prayer can be nurtured and cultivated. It can create a climate in which a man's life moves and functions. Indeed, it may become a way of living for the individual. It is ever possible that the time may come when a person carries such an atmosphere around with them and gives its quality to all that he does and communicates its spirit to all who cross their path." (40-Day Journey With Howard Thurman, 60)

Jesus was like this. People around him saw it. Thurman writes: "His whole countenance glowed with the glory of the Father." (Ib.)

And what was the secret? Thurman says it is found in Luke 5:16:

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Note the word "often." Praying "often" produces an environment of unceasing praying.