Saturday, August 30, 2014

Praying Not to Be a Fake (Prayer Summer 2014)

Monroe County
Tomorrow morning at Redeemer I'm preaching out of 1 John 2:3-6. Here I am told that if I say I know God but don't follow God's commands, then I am a liar. The command John is especially referring to is the command to love one another. We know this because John talks about this letter's recipients and their unGodlike hatred of each other.

For several years now the #1 thing I am praying for myself is that God would form Christlike love in my heart that loves my enemies, not to mention my friends. I'm asking because I don't have it. Jesus did have it. I want his heart to be formed in me (Galatians 4:19). And, I don't want to say "I love God" but be a fake who does not love people.

I am praying for the greatest thing. I believe in supernatural healings. I have seen them. But love is greater than healings. Love will endure for eternity; love is heaven's modus operandi. As great and wonderful healings are, they are still a subset of the greater, all-encompassing reality that is the love of God. It's like this.

1. God so loved the world.
2. Out of his love God sent His Son to the world.

God heals people because, in the first place, God loves them. Love always comes first. It is possible to heal a person without loving them; it is not possible to love them and not desire their soul and body to be well. Or desire their release from indebtedness. The heart of authentic Jesus-faith is that love forgives. The inability to forgive is an indicator of the absence of love.

In Jerry Sittser's excruciating and hopeful A Grace Disguised Sittser's car containing himself, his mother-in-law, his wife, and his daughter was hit by a drunk driver. Only Sittser survived. The drunk driver was acquitted by a clever lawyer. Sittser writes of the agony of this injustice piled on the loss of his loved ones.

"During the months that followed the trial I thought often about the driver of the other car. I fantasized reading reports in the newspaper that he had died hideously or that he had committed a crime that put him behind bars for life. I wanted to see him suffer and pay for the wrong I believed he had done...

It eventually occurred to me that this preoccupation was poisoning me. It signaled that I wanted more than justice. I wanted revenge. I was beginning to harbor hatred in my heart. I was edging toward becoming an unforgiving person and using what appeared to be the failure of the judicial system to justify my unforgiveness. I wanted to punish the wrongdoer and get even. The very thought of forgiveness seemed abhorrent to me. I realized at that moment that I have to forgive. If not, I would be consumed by my own unforgiveness." (135)

The options are: Either consumed by the love of God that, among other things, forgives; or consumed by the poison of my own unforgiveness. The first option is freedom, the second bondage.

I am praying: God, produce the love that you have for humanity in my heart.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Teaching Western Philosophy et. al. at MCCC

Tomorrow I begin teaching at Monroe County Community College. My classes are Intro to Western Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, and Intro to Logic.

I taught Western Philosophy several years ago. I'm re-doing the entire class, which is a lot of work, but a lot of fun. I get to revisit the great philosophers from the Pre-Socratics to Wittgenstein and all the major ones in between.

Tomorrow morning I'll introduce students to the problem of the "one and the many," via Pre-Socratic philosopher Thales; and then on to Parmenides' radical discovery of Being as his solution to the matter of change. With a little of Democritus's atomistic theory as a precursor to today's quantum theory. I look forward to seeing if I can make sense of this stuff to students who have never been exposed to philosophy before!



Thursday, Aug. 28

7 PM

Redeemer Church - Monroe, MI

Led by our church's youth

Anyone is invited to come

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Praying to Get Closer to God's Heart (Prayer Summer 2014)

Pray to get closer to God's heart. But: 

WARNING! One of the challenges is you. As you get closer to God you will diminish, and God will dominate the spotlight. Your plans will recede. Your goals will back off. "You" will not longer be front and center.

This is good, because the cause of most of your problems is: you.

Henri Nouwen writes: "Our desire to be successful, well liked, and influential becomes increasingly less important as we come closer to God's heart." (Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, K 16%)

I continue to find this is good, so I am praying to be free from my own perceived greatness and get close to God and his glory.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Prayer and Neuroscience - Some Current Resources

One of my former Payne Theological Seminary students asked me for resources referring to praying and brain studies. Here's my response.

Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg (U of Pennsylvania) is doing major research in this area. See his books here -

U of Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregaard is working in the area of spirituality and neuroscience -

And, I recently read The Psychology of Prayer: A Scientific Approach - esp. chs. 6 and 7.

Finally, New Testament scholar Joel Green is working in the area of neuroscience - see his excellent book Body, Soul, and Human Life.

Michael Brown - "Smashing the Myth of American Church Success"

Michael Brown's "Smashing the Myth of American Church Success" is very good.

Here's a few quotes - read the entire article.

There is a myth of church success in America that says, "The bigger the building, the bigger the budget, the bigger the attendance, the more successful you are."
In the sight of man, this might equal success, but in the sight of God, it might have nothing to do with success. In fact, it might simply be the beautiful facade hiding all kinds of spiritual rot and decay...
All too often, though, outward success has nothing to do with discipleship or spiritual growth, which is why Jesus rebuked the church of Sardis, saying, "You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead" (Rev 3:1).
His rebuke to Laodicea was even sharper: "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (Rev 3:17).
In their case, the outward reflected the opposite of the inward, and the natural wealth only obscured their spiritual poverty.
Yet so many of our American churches and leaders don't get it, as Christian pollster and researcher George Barna has recognized, noting that, "There are five factors that the vast majority of pastors turn to" when asked how they know if their churches are successful.
Those five factors were, "Attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff and square footage."
What a significant indicator of deep spiritual deception...
Tragically, many American (and international) leaders think that success is measured by these outward characteristics (many congregants feel the same way), yet none of them necessarily reflect maturity in Jesus, soundness in the Word, Christlike conduct, intimacy with the Lord, solid family life, compassionate outreach, or the presence of the Spirit. In fact, none of them reflect a single goal expressed by Jesus and the apostles.
When did Jesus or Paul or Peter or John ever say, "You can measure the success of your mission by how many people attend your meetings, or by how much they give, or by the size of the buildings you build?"...
This, then, is the big question we must ask ourselves, especially as leaders: What has Jesus called us to build?

The 24-7 Repetitive Worship of the Four Living Creatures & the 24 Elders

Don't blame worship-loving Azuza Street charismatics for inventing repetitive, physical, emotional worship. Look at Revelation 4 and behold the "beyond-7-11 worship" of the four living creatures and the copycat 24 elders.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”
9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”

These amazing "four living creatures" are doing nothing but worshiping God, 24-7. We are told that they are singing the same words over and over and over and over...  non-stop. Does anyone want to accuse these holy creatures of mindless, repetitive worship?

Then there are the "24 elders." They respond, over and over and over and over and... over again and again, 24-7, by falling down before God and singing the words we read in v. 11. These elders are the fallingest people in the entire Bible. Anyone want to accuse them of being over-emotional as they are laying there with their faces pressed to the ground in love with the God of all heaven and earth?

All this makes sense in Hebrew culture which is:

  1. tribal (therefore repetition is not only not a threat but desired and expected)
  2. physically expressive; and
  3. emotional (therefore unafraid of expressing emotion)
The idea that this worship is "unthinking" comes from the influence of the likes of Plato and Descartes, and the resultant philosophical-Western bifurcation of "feeling" vs. "thinking," of "Kirk" vs. "Spock."

The Cartesian Spock (right) could not understand the
emotion of the Hebraic Kirk (left).

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Prayer Is the Glue that Enables Our Freedom (Prayer Summer 2014)


I hear of so much violence through the media that my heart easily becomes desensitized to it. But not this week. I can barely hear of what happened to James Foley. My heart aches and longs as I see his parents and brother, especially how they are expressing their grief and the ways they are talking about their loss.

Their love and grace and lack of vindictiveness makes the whole thing harder for me. Had they responded with the common world-default "eye for an eye" philosophy I would be hating instead of grieving. Pure, unpolluted grief does not hate, but loves.

The Foleys talked with Pope Francis""Pope Francis, like Jesus, loves, like Jim. He understood Jim's heart," Diane Foley said of her son, who "was able to draw strength from prayer" during his capture. She said love and compassion had drawn her son to cover the plight of the people in Syria, which has been embroiled in a violent conflict for the past several years... "We must stand together," Diane Foley said. "Good and love and all that is free in the world must be together to fight the evil and the hatred.""

We are going to fight evil with "good" and "love." That is correct. There is no other way. "Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you." (Jesus.)
Jim Foley was a Jesus-follower who prayed. "Foley was a devout Christian who, unlike most journalists I've known during my almost four decades in the field, was unapologetic about his heart for social justice and the inspiration he found for his beliefs in the New Testament." ("James Foley: Beheading victim had deep faith")
When he was held captive in Libya in 2011 Jim later said that "prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us.” ("Journalist James Foley Turned to Prayer for Strength")
Jim and fellow prisoner Claire "prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone." (From here.)
Jim said "I'd pray to stay strong. I'd pray to soften the hearts of our captors. I'd pray to God to lift the burdens we couldn't handle. And I'd pray that our Moms would know we were OK."
At his life's end on earth James Foley was dressed in orange and a hooded killer beheaded him. One writer concludes: "This time, God did not answer James Foley's prayers. This time, James Foley was not delivered from evil." (Here.) 
But God did, and Jim was. The root of evil lies in the human heart. Jim was delivered from what Thomas Merton referred to as inner "seeds of destruction" and Paul Tournier called "the violence within." As Jesus was free even as he was brutalized, Jim did not succumb and drink from the sickspring of evil. Jesus "loved them to the end." This is the message that comes through Jim's life and family and simultaneously crushes me and gives me hope.
Elisabeth Scalia writes: "Prayer is a subversive means of freedom, at once consoling, engaging and efficacious throughout time and space. It has power, and that power holds, when everything else falls apart." 
Prayer is the glue that enables my freedom and holds me together when everything else falls apart.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Praying for Love to Capture My Imprisoned Heart (Prayer Summer 2014)

Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio
I am praying for love to capture my imprisoned heart.

Power is good. Love is better.

What our diseased world needs now is love.

Thomas Merton writes:

"Now I see more and more that there is only one realistic answer: Love. I have got to dare to love, and to bear the anxiety of self-questioning that love arouses in me, until “perfect love casts out fear.”" (Thomas Merton, Learning To Love: Exploring Solitude and Freedom (The Journals of Thomas Merton), Kindle Locations 857-858, April 25, 1966) 

Love has attributes, which include:

  • is patient
  • is kind
  • does not envy
  • does not boast
  • is not proud
  • does not dishonor others
  • is not self-seeking
  • is not easily angered
  • keeps no record of wrongs
  • does not delight in evil
  • rejoices with the truth
  • always protects
  • always trusts
  • always hopes
  • always perseveres
  • never fails
Love sacrifices self for others. Jesus said "anyone who loves their life will lose it." (John 12:25) And: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:13)

Love's reach is expansive. Jesus said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44) In this way love is power. With love things come together; with war things fall apart.

Love's primal, aboriginal subject is God. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)

"Love" is defined by the being of God. God is love, in essence.

Love makes no rational sense without God. Without God, if there is no God, love does not exist. Atheist physicist Stephen Weinberg acknowledges this (see Weinberg, "Without God"). Weinberg's scientism causes him to conclude: "The worldview of science is rather chilling...  the emotions that we most treasure, our love for our wives and husbands and children, are made possible by chemical processes in our brains that are what they are as a result of natural selection acting on chance mutations over millions of years." Weinberg is correct. If there is no God there is no "love," since all our emotions, to include "love," are but chemical processes in our physical brains.

Love looks like Jesus. 

Love, God's love, is the only answer.

Pray for this, in you.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Praying for Selfishness to Be Morphed Into Sacrifice (Prayer Summer 2014)

Monroe County

Thomas Merton describes his birth in his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain.

"On the last day of January 1915... I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, on the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of hell, full of men like myself, loving God and yet hating Him; born to love Him, living instead in fear and hopeless self-contradictory hungers." (A Thomas Merton Reader, 27)

We're all born into a world of violence and selfishness. Every child born as I now type enters a world where there is Isis, Gaza, ebola, Ferguson, and the many headlines reporting the same. Our world is a mixture of evil and good, with evil at times seeming to have the upper hand.

This is the world that will shape today's newborns into its mold. The antidote to this is the promise of a spiritual metamorphosis, enabled by the Spirit of God. This is the transformation Romans 12:1-2 sets before me.

Pray for violence to be morphed into love, and for selfishness to be morphed into sacrifice.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pray to Be Filled With the Fullness of God (Prayer Summer 2014)

Cape May, New Jersey

Love and power do things. New Testament scholar Klyne Snodgrass writes that “To know Christ’s love is to be transformed by love and expanded into the fullness of God.” In other words there is an extraordinary power available to believers, a power that can and will accomplish far more than we ordinarily think or imagine. It comes by the Spirit. It accords with the riches of God's glory. John Piper says this "is the very fullness of God, as humanly unimaginable as that sounds."

So Paul kneels. And prays these words…

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

This is why the early church exploded. People were filled with love, power, and the fullness of God. This is not about a program or formula. You don’t need money to do it. It's all about cultivating the relationship. As N.T. Wright says, this “means knowing God as the all-loving, all-powerful father; it means putting down roots into that love - or, changing the picture, having that love as the rock-solid foundation for every aspect of one's life." (NTW, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 39-40)

Today, pray to know who you are in Christ, and all that is available to you.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Fading of the Richard Dawkins Embarrassment

NOTE: I write about this stuff because I teach philosophy, and philosophy of religion. I stay as updated as I can.

From The Spectator - "The Bizarre - and Costly - Cult of Richard Dawkins": "Much of the atheist/humanist/secularist movement is now embarrassed by [Dawkins], and repelled by the zeal of his cult of personality."

"[T]he Richard Dawkins website offers followers the chance to join the ‘Reason Circle’, which, like Dante’s Hell, is arranged in concentric circles. For $85 a month, you get discounts on his merchandise, and the chance to meet ‘Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science personalities’. Obviously that’s not enough to meet the man himself. For that you pay $210 a month — or $5,000 a year — for the chance to attend an event where he will speak.
When you compare this to the going rate for other charismatic preachers, it does seem on the high side. The Pentecostal evangelist Morris Cerullo, for example, charges only $30 a month to become a member of ‘God’s Victorious Army’, which is bringing ‘healing and deliverance to the world’. And from Cerullo you get free DVDs, not just discounts."
See the article for much more.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Join My "Prayer" Class this Fall

I've been spending a lot of time doing a first edit of my book, which I'm currently calling Praying: An Exercise In the Continuous Tense.

I'll have this first draft available for students who take my "Prayer" class this fall in Redeemer Ministry school.

Note: This is different material than my Spiritual Formation class.

For Redeemer people - you can sign up for this class in the lobby beginning this Sunday morning.

For non-Redeemer people who might want to take this class - send me an email.

Cost - $10 for my book (initial draft).

First class - Sunday night, Sept. 13, 6-8 PM.

Meets Sunday nights through November 30. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

More Information Won't Change You (Prayer Summer 2014)

Window in our former house in East Lansing

Pray to be changed into greater Christlikeness. (Galatians 4:19) How does this happen?

Dallas Willard writes: "The realities of Christian spiritual formation are that we will not be transformed "into His likeness" by more information, or by infusions, inspirations, or ministrations alone. Though all of these have an important place, they never suffice, and reliance upon them alone explains the now-common failure of committed Christians to rise much above a certain level of decency."

This typical Willard-quote explains why so many Christians live lives of spiritual mediocrity. What is needed is: to learn what it means to abide in Christ, like a branch is connected to a vine, with Jesus being the Vine and you being the branch.
The fundamental secret of caring for our souls is found in a verse like Psalms 16:8-9: “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely.”
Willard writes: "Our part in thus practicing the presence of God is to direct and redirect our minds constantly to Him." Then, as this happens day after day after year and after year, our trust is in a God who can morph our souls into for the form of Christ.

Greg Boyd, in his book Present Perfect, writes:
"One of the reasons why many contemporary Western Christians place so much stress on hearing sermons, engaging in Bible studies, reading books, and attending seminars and conferences [is because] we believe that acquiring information is the key to helping us grow spiritually and solve our personal and social problems." (98)

While sometimes information does help people grow and sometimes helps people solve problems, knowledge "does not on its own empower us to become more Christlike. When it comes to living in the Kingdom, moment-by-moment, our typical Western confidence in information is misplaced." (98-99)

In the West we are "massively informed" about this. We have more data, more information, than Christians at any time in the past. But we are not more spiritually mature than Christians in the past. Many have written about how the lifestyle and core values of Western Christians are no different from pagan, worldly non-Christians. And this, in spite of all our Christian bookstores and books and websites and seminars and conferences and Bible studies. We have a real problem. Clearly it isn't due to a lack of information.

Greg asks, "Why do so many Christians today spend more time listening to sermons or reading books than they do feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, welcoming outcasts, visiting prisoners, or engaging on other activities Jesus said should characterize Kingdom people?" (98) 

The answer lies in the great gap being knowing about the Kingdom and knowing Jesus and living out the Kingdom. I fully agree with Greg when he writes that "all the information in the world is worthless if it distracts from the simplest thing in the world, which is practicing the presence of God in the present moment." (100)

Submit to God now, in the present moment. As you do this God's "Life flows in and through us," and "transforms us in a way no amount of knowledge can." (101)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Paul Oakenfold's Electronic Version of Barber's "Adagio for Strings"

Is Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" the most beautiful piece of music ever written? I'll vote for it.

I just discovered Paul Oakenfold's electronic version of it. Sweet!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Deeper Bible Study - 1 John 1:5-10

One hundred Redeemer adults are doing Deeper Bible Study with me. This means they receive emails from me each week where I share how I am studying to preach the coming Sunday's sermon.

I don't give DBS people answers, but point them in directions.

I want to get more of our people learning how to study the biblical text on their own. When they come to Sunday morning worship they will be more prepared to hear the preached Word.

If you are in my church family at Redeemer and want to join please send me a request at:

Here's what I sent DBS people this morning.

THIS COMING SUNDAY, August 17, I'll be preaching from 1 John 1:5-10.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

Here’s how I am preparing, today, for next Sunday.

1.   I’ll print these verses out and carry them with me. I’ll pull them out and read and re-read. If I have a thought or a question, I’ll write it down.
2.   II'll slow-read through the entire letter of 1 John, probably multiple times. This is good to do because it gives me the broader context. In interpreting the Bible (or anything for that matter) context is necessary.
3. I turn to biblical commentaries on 1 John. I have the following 1 John commentaries on my Kindle:  

1, 2 and 3 John, by Robert Yarbrough. At the link look at the New Testament scholars who review Yarbrough's book positively, including my friend Craig Keener.

The Letters of John, by Gary Burge. This is one of the volumes in the NIV Application Commentary series. It's very good in scholarship and practical application.

1-3 John, by Marianne Meye Thompson. (I have a hard copy of this. Marianne is the daughter of a former professor of mine. She teaches New Testament Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.)

Note: If you don't have a Kindle you can get the Kindle app for free at

Here are my suggestions for you, this week:
1.   Read the verses. If possible, over and over. Perhaps carry them with you on a 3X5 card.
2.   If there is something you do not understand, this is where you will want to do some study.
3.   This week, at least once, read the entire book of 1 John.
4.   Try pulling up one of the 1 John commentaries using Google Books.


I use to pull up the text. It’s easy to look at other translations on this website.

I mostly use the NIV translation. I also really like what Eugene Peterson has given us in The Message.

One excellent study tool I use is Google Books. It’s free!

When I use Google Books to look up biblical commentaries, I do this, for example:
1.   Pull up Google.
2.   Type in key words; e.g., “1 John walk in the light.”
3.   Click on “More”
4.   Click on “Books”
5.   Then, a number of commentaries appear. Some are definitely better than others! E.g. - scroll down to the commentary on Colin Kruse and click on it. 

I’m so glad you are doing this with me,