Wednesday, December 30, 2015


I took this picture of turkish delight
while in Istanbul. A man walking is reflected in the window.
It appears like he is eyeing the candy.
"Resolution" - the act or process of resolving." "The act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones," thereby "solving" something.  "The act of determining."

"Resolution" - in music, "the passing of a voice part from a dissonant to a consonant tone or the progression of a chord from dissonance to consonance."  For example, if a musical piece is in the key of C, G is the 5th. A musical piece that ends on the 5th begs to be resolved to the 1st, or tonic chord, which is in this case C. The unresolved 5th causes one to inwardly strain and lean towards the anticipated 1st.

To "resolve" - fixity of purpose, resoluteness. For example: His comments were intended to weaken her resolve but they only served to strengthen it. (From here.)

If you are a Jesus-follower, don't make "New Year's Resolutions." Instead, resolve today. In four ways.

1. Resolve to inquire of the Lord

2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. (2 Chronicles 20:2-4)

Bring your life's dissonance to the Lord. Now. Inquire of God, regarding the chaos and incompleteness. You've tried to figure out yourself how the ending will be; instead, seek God about this. Not just once a year, but today and every day. Place your trust in God, now. Get alone with God and receive direction. Like God called Jehoshaphat to declare a fast in response to unresolved dissonance in Judah, so God has promised to shepherd you through all things. God is willing to direct your paths.

Resolve to inquire of God, today and every day.

2. Resolve that your mouth will not bring destruction

2 May my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right.

3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,
though you test me, you will find nothing;
I have resolved that my mouth will not sin. 4 As for the deeds of men—
by the word of your lips
I have kept myself
from the ways of the violent.
(Psalm 17:2-4)

I will keep my mouth shut unless my words serve to build up others. 

I will meet, often and alone, with God. I will abide in Christ. I will dwell in his presence. God will shape and form my heart into Christlikeness. (Gal. 4:19) This Jesus-heart will be what comes out of the space between my lips.

Resolve that your mouth will not destroy, today and every day.

3. Resolve not to defile my soul with the enemy's "turkish delight."

7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel... (Daniel 1:7-9)

Daniel refuses to allow King Nebuchadnezzar to redefine his identity. Daniel "resolved"; i.e., Daniel "set upon his heart" not to pollute himself. Daniel set his heart "not to compromise himself by accepting his redefinition as a Babylonian. This is the matter of allegiance.

In C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund meets the White Witch, who seduces him with a delicious piece of  "turkish delight." He eats it, betraying Aslan, and his defiled heart falls under the Witch's dark spell.

Today, resolve not to compromise your allegiance to Jesus as your Lord.

4. Resolve to know Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

This is not rocket science. Learn about Jesus. Learn Jesus. Fix on him. Sum all things up in Jesus.

Resolve to know Christ and him crucified. Today.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Kataphatic and Apophatic Praying

Redeemer sanctuary, before our Christmas Eve candlelight and communion service

Our new building addition for our children at Redeemer is nearly finished. This will leave some empty classrooms. One of them will be transformed into a room dedicated to praying.

Several years ago I felt God told me to establish such a sacred space in our church's building. Soon we will begin to recreate an empty classroom into a praying place.

What will this look like? When I met with people who will be helping with this project I shared with them that I would like the room to be usable for all kinds of praying people. I explained the distinction between kataphatic spirituality and apophatic spirituality to begin the discussion of how we might furnish the room.

The word kataphatic is a Greek word that is a put-together of the prefix kata (referring to; according to) and phasis (saying, or asserting something). Apophatic means apo (without) + phasis (saying, or asserting something).

Kataphatic praying uses words, symbols, and icons which, for the praying person, mediate God's presence (see, e.g., Henri Nouwen's Praying With Icons). Apophatic praying is bare and austere, and tends towards wordlessness (nondiscursive experience).

Both approaches to praying have rich, deep traditions in the Christian church. Some praying people prefer one way more than the other.

I want our prayer room to be spiritually accessible to both praying types. This may present a challenge but I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

Thomas Merton believed that the ancient practice of lectio divina (sacred reading, or reading a text in a sacred way) contained both kataphasis and apophasis. Merton saw that "the deeply personal practice of lectio unfolds in four non-linear movements that oscillate between the sensuous experience of kataphatic forms conveyed in words and images and the apophatic experience of a pregnant emptiness beyond all sense and reason." (James Finley, in Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours, 23) The fourth movement, contemplation, moves us "beyond all words, images, and concepts toward a quiet abiding in wordless silence." (Ib.)

This praying space is important to me because the people of Redeemer are a praying family.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Real Jesus Sermon #4

My fourth Real Jesus sermon can be heard HERE

The real Jesus performed sings, wonders, miracles, healings, delierances - His Kingdom is ot from this world.

Is It Reasonable To Believe In Life After Death?

Dinesh D'Souza, in Life After Death: The Evidence, gives eight reasons for the reasonability of life after death. Of this book USC philosopher Dallas Willard writes: "An indispensable, electrifying book. Writing clearly, forcefully, and fairly, D'Souza covers an amazing range of arguments. I know of no better way to understand the issue of life after death than to get this book and just follow the argument." 

D'Souza's eight reasons for the reasonability of belief in life after death are:

#1 - "Near-death experiences show that clinical death may not be the end; there may be "something more."" (220) NDEs don't say what life after death may be like. But they do imply the possibility of life after death. (Note: Last summer I personally heard an astounding story of a self-proclaimed pagan in my Monroe community. She died (was pronounced dead in our local hospital), had an experience of being in a garden and talking to a man for an hour who seemed like "my best friend," asked the man "Who are you?", to which the man replied "I am who I am," to which the pagan replied "What the heck does that mean?" She got my phone number and talked extensively to me about this. And, since then she's been coming to our worship services!)

#2 - "Modern physics shows the existence of matter that is radically different in its attributes from any matter that we are familiar with." (220) Therefore, "there is nothing in physics to contradict the idea that we can live beyond death in other realms with bodies that are unlike the bodies we now possess." (Ib.)

#3 - "Modern biology shows an evolutionary transition from matter to mind that does not seem random or accidental but rather built into the script of nature." (Ib.) As nature progresses from the material to the immaterial, so might we. "Minds" are not subject to the limitations of matter.

#4 - "Neuroscience reveals that the mind cannot be reduced to the brain." (Ib.) D'Souza shows that reductive materialism is a dead end. In support of this one would do well to read J.P. Moreland's brilliant and philosophically dense Consciousness And the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument. Personally, I find such argumentation persuasive and, by abduction, find scientific materialism improbable.
 (For something academic and very challenging see Robert Koons and George Bealer, eds., The Waning of Materialism. Twenty-three philosophers examine the doctrine of materialism find it wanting. The case against materialism comprises arguments from conscious experience, from the unity and identity of the person, from intentionality, mental causation, and knowledge. From this one can form a reductio ad absurdum argument against atheism-as materialism.)

#5 - "Modern philosophy makes a central distinction between experience and reality." (Ib.) D'Souza employs Kant's transcendental idealism to establish the existence of noumenal reality (i.e., another world beyond phenomenal/physical reality).

#6 - "Morality is best understood under the presupposition that there is cosmic justice in a world beyond this world." (Ib., 221)

#7 - "Practical reason helps us to see that a belief in immortality is good for our society and good for our lives." (Ib.) Of course this doesn't, by itself, imply that there is life after death.

#8 - Someone, in history, has actually died and come back to life. That "someone" is Jesus of Nazareth. D'Souza devotes his final chapter to argue for this. D'Souza presents four historical facts that "have to be accounted for." (223) They are:

1) Jesus was tried by his enemies, convicted, and crucified to death.

2) Shortly after he was buried, Jesus' tomb was found empty.

3) Many of his disciples, to include a few skeptics, claimed to see Jesus alive in the flesh, and interacted with him following his death.

4) These disciples, inspired by belief in Jesus' bodily resurrection, began a movement that proclaimed this event in spite of being persecuted and even martyred for what they believed.

What best accounts for these four historical facts? D'Souza cites N.T. Wright here, whose massive The Resurrection of the Son of God reasons that the best explanatory hypothesis for these four facts is that Jesus was resurrected from death. D'Souza writes: "the resurrection is believable because it makes sense of all the other facts listed above." (223)

D'Souza's book examines each of these eight points in depth, and carefully looks at the major objections to each one.

For every person interested in the question of life after death (which should include everyone), D'Souza's book is a good read.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Violent Night (An Alternative Nativity Story)

In Revelation 12:1-7 we have an alternative nativity story. Eugene Peterson writes:  “This is not the nativity story we grew up with, but it is the nativity story all the same.” (Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, 121)

This is why C.S. Lewis referred to the birth of Christ as an act of war. Christmas, said Lewis, is about "The Great Invasion." In chapter 7 of Mere Christianity hewrites:

"One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe--a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin...  

Christianity agrees that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.

Enemy-occupied territory--that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. 

When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery. 

I know someone will ask me, 'Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil-hoofs and horns and all?' Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is 'Yes, I do.' I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him better I would say to that person, 'Don't worry. If you really want to, you will. Whether you'll like it when you do is another question.'"Christmas Eve was the night before the Great Invasion. The creatures were stirring, even the mouse. We see this stirring in that a-cultural telling of Christmas found in Revelation 12:1-7. It reads:

"A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. 

And there was war in heaven."

Robert Mounce says that: 

  1. The "woman" here is not Mary, but the messianic community, the "ideal Israel";
  2. out of the messianic community is born a "child," a Messiah; 
  3. the seven-headed red dragon is Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2); and
  4. Satan is looking to devour this child; AKA Jesus the Christ. 

Mary has already been prophetically warned about such things. In Luke 2 we read that...

...the old man "Simeon took him [baby Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 

The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." 

Violent night

Holy night

All's not calm

All's not bright

Christmas Eve - that violent night when the Light of the World descended into darkness..

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Another Atheist's Failed Attempt to Find Meaning in Life

Pottery, by Gary Wilson
A major problem for today's atheist is to try to find objective meaning in a purely physical world. Physical objects,
qua physical, have no meaning (nor any other values, nor free will).

In "We're Doomed. Now What?" Roy Scranton tries to pull a meaningful rabbit out of a physicalist hat. He fails.

Scranton begins by telling us that, as a species, we are in deep trouble.

"The time we’ve been thrown into is one of alarming and bewildering change — the breakup of the post-1945 global order, a multispecies mass extinction and the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it. Not one of us is innocent, not one of us is safe. The world groans under the weight of seven billion humans; every new birth adds another mouth hungry for food, another life greedy for energy."

o We’re doomed as a species.

o Nihilism is taking root
He's right. Unless there is a God, and God intervenes, we're toast. What follows from that belief is: nihilism. Nihilism is the belief that life has no objective meaning. If there is no God, and if reality is only physical, then of course life has no objective meaning. But give Scranton credit for mightily attempting something only God could do; viz., create objective meaning out of physical particles.

He writes:

"The Western world has been grappling with radical nihilism since at least the 17th century, when scientific insights into human behavior began to undermine religious belief. Philosophers have struggled since to fill the gap between fact and meaning."

·        OK – philosophers struggle to fill the gap between fact and meaning.

·        But Scranton, in this essay, is struggling to find meaning in a physicalist worldview. He doesn’t.
"Scientific materialism, taken to its extreme, threatens us with meaninglessness; if consciousness is reducible to the brain and our actions are determined not by will but by causes, then our values and beliefs are merely rationalizations for the things we were going to do anyway. Most people find this view of human life repugnant, if not incomprehensible."

·        On physicalism, this is correct.
So what is Scranton's escape plan from the doom that is upon us and will eventually overrun us? It is an appeal to the human drive and ability to make meaning where there is none. "Humanity’s keenest evolutionary advantage has been its drive to create collective meaning...  Our drive to make meaning is powerful enough even to turn nihilism against itself."

·        I don’t think so.

·        Yes, on physicalism, all we have is human beings making their own meaning out of life.
"When forced to the precipice of nihilism, we would choose meaningful self-annihilation over meaningless bare life."

·        I think that’s correct. But if “meaningful” reduces to “make your own meaning” then some among the philosophically minded (myself included) will find this hollow.

“In this view, there is no ultimate, transcendent moral truth.”
Again, Scranton is correct on this. But he doesn’t think this leads to nihilism since humans have this drive and ability to make up their own meaning to sustain themselves in the midst of the doom and despair.
“The human ability to make meaning is so versatile, so powerful, that it can make almost any existence tolerable, even a life of unending suffering, so long as that life is woven into a bigger story that makes it meaningful. Humans have survived and thrived in some of the most inhospitable environments on Earth…”

Why do I now hear violins playing? Why do the words blah… blah… blah… come into my mind? Because:

·         On physicalism there is no ultimate, transcendent moral truth. But this means that comparative moral judgments like “better than” or “worse than” have no meaning, in the same Platonic way that Line A is straighter than line B has no meaning if there is no such thing as “straightness.” “Straight” gets reduced to pure subjectivity. Thus, if all we are doing is making up our own meaning then my meaning is as good as yours even if they contradict.
Since Scranton never defines “meaning” I will.

·         “Meaning’ is fitness within a coherent context. This is Scranton’s “bigger story.” ‘Meaning’ finds its meaning within something like a coherent Grand Narrative. Or worldview, which BTW everyone has, whether examined or not.
Scranton appeals to Nietzsche, saying is view was “perspectivism” rather than “nihilism.” He writes:

“Nietzsche wasn’t himself a nihilist. He developed his idea of truth as a “mobile army of metaphors” into a more complex philosophy of perspectivism, which conceived of subjective truth as a variety of constructions arising out of particular perspectives on objective reality. The more perspectives we learn to see from, the more truth we have access to. This is different from relativism, with which it’s often confused, which says that all truth is relative and there is no objective reality.”
Aside from the fact that Scranton’s claim about Nietzsche is much debated, I think:

·         If “objective reality” means “physical reality,” then fine (even though that is a monstrous philosophical discussion, which is not as easy as it might seem).

·         Here Nietzsche was rejecting Kant, who claimed that one can never get to the ding an sich, the objective “thing in itself.” As Kant argued, there are limits to pure reason.

·         If Scranton is claiming there are objective moral values, then he can’t be a physicalist. But he is a physicalist. Therefore it looks like he is trying to pull a metaphysical rabbit out of the hat.
In Nietzsche Scranton sees some weird hope; viz., the Nietzschean “overman” provides “the possibility of a human being who could comprehend the meaningless of our drive to make meaning,” and create meaning. Please pause to think about that idea, and how it helps at all.

He further writes:
“Yet it’s at just this moment of crisis that our human drive to make meaning reappears as our only salvation … if we’re willing to reflect consciously on the ways we make life meaningful — on how we decide what is good, what our goals are, what’s worth living or dying for, and what we do every day, day to day, and how we do it. Because if it’s true that we make our lives meaningful ourselves and not through revealed wisdom handed down by God or the Market or History, then it’s also true that we hold within ourselves the power to change our lives — wholly, utterly — by changing what our lives mean. Our drive to make meaning is more powerful than oil, the atom, and the market, and it’s up to us to harness that power to secure the future of the human species.”

·         But if all we are doing is making up our own meaning (given the fact that humans are meaning-makers), then how is this not subjectivism? How is this not relativism? Here we run into the great Clash of Worldviews and the inevitable differentiation of “meaning.” The meaning of life for a Hindu or a Buddhist will never be the meaning of life for myself as a Christian theist. And none of these (except maybe Buddhism) will ever be the meaning of life for an atheist, who should conclude that life has no ultimate, objective meaning.

·         The following argument fails:

o   Humans make their own meaning.

o   Therefore, there is an objective meaning to life.
Now Scranton leaves reasoning behind. Think of Wagner’s music in the background…

“Most important, we need to give up defending and protecting our truth, our perspective, our Western values, and understand that truth is found not in one perspective but in their multiplication, not in one point of view but in the aggregate, not in opposition but in the whole. We need to learn to see not just with Western eyes but with Islamic eyes and Inuit eyes…”

·         “Truth is found in the aggregate?” This makes no sense to me. Which at least proves that I don’t think Truth is found in the aggregate is true.

·         Sounds like some kind of utilitarian theory of truth.
Finally, the political rhetoric pours forth promising a future nihilism could never deliver. (Despite Scranton’s protests, I see good, old-fashioned nihilism here.)

Accepting the fatality of our situation isn’t nihilism, but rather the necessary first step in forging a new way of life. Between self-destruction and giving up, between willing nothingness and not willing, there is another choice: willing our fate. Conscious self-creation. We owe it to the generations whose futures we’ve burned and wasted to build a bridge, to be a bridge, to connect the diverse human traditions of meaning-making in our past to those survivors, children of the Anthropocene, who will build a new world among our ruins.
·         To me this is just sheer rhetoric. Again, see Russell’s “A Free Man’s Worship” where he attempts to rah-rah the troops to polish the brass on the Titanic as it is sinking.

To his credit, at least Scranton identifies a big-time problem with atheism; viz., the struggle with the inevitable nihilism that results upon reflection.
His essay serves as an example of the atheist’s noble but mostly rhetorical attempts (like Russell) to placate humanity and keep them in the prison-house of illusion and denial. Surely, on atheism, life has no objective meaning.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Deconstructing the "Holidays" to Uncover the Meaning of "Christmas"

"Black Friday" and "Cyber-Monday" are over. the Thanksgiving days of feasting are now days of healthy, moderate eating. I'm about to sit down for a bowl of cereal with bananas. 

I turn on the TV. "Holiday" stuff is on. So is a special on Christmas and the White House. I actually heard, on TV, the word "Christmas" several times!

But little of this "holiday" stuff really concerns "Christmas.” Because...  

#1 - Christmas has nothing to do with shopping. I’m not against shopping. I like to go to the mall with Linda and look around. I like the crowds and the lights and the music and the candy. I like eating red and green M&Ms. Yet all these things have NOTHING to do with Christmas. What, then, is Christmas about? There’s a big clue in the word itself. Christmas has to do with “Christ.” What does that mean? The word “Christ” means “anointed King.” Jesus is “the Christ,” the anointed King. "Christ" is the Greek word for the Hebrew word "Messiah."

"Christmas" = Messiah has come.

#2 - Christmas has nothing to do with gift-giving. But what about the wise men who brought gifts? They came after Jesus was born. Remove them from your manger scene and place them somewhere outside the house, perhaps down the road a ways. They did bring gifts to honor Jesus’ birth. They did not go shopping to buy gifts to give one another. Is it wrong to do that? I don’t think so. I love giving gifts to my family. I like opening gifts. But giving gifts to one another has NOTHING to do with Christmas. Except that, in Jesus, God gave a great Gift to all humanity. For that Gift, I remain eternally grateful. "

Christmas" = A Gift, from God, to us.

#3 - Christmas has nothing to do with tree-decorating. Is it wrong to have a Christmas tree? I don’t think so. I like decorating the tree every year. I like the lights, especially old-fashioned large multi-colored ones. I enjoy going to Bronner's, just 75 miles north of us. But decorated trees have NOTHING to do with Christmas. Read the original Christmas story in both Matthew and Luke and see for yourself. There were no trees or lights or tinsel. And, it didn't smell like fresh-cut pine.

"Christmas" = the birth of God's Son, who would eventually be crucified on a tree.

#4 - Christmas has nothing to do with snow. When first-century Jews hoped for a Messiah (a “Christ”), not one of them was dreaming of a white Christmas. Those ancient people were under great political oppression. They could care less if it snowed or not. I care. Linda doesn't. Nonetheless "snow" is neither an essential attribute nor a contingent attribute of "Christmas."

"Christmas" = Messiah who comes to make us, righteously, "white than snow." (Ps. 51:7)

#5 - Christmas has nothing to do with the economy. I have friends who are local retailers, and I hope they do well. I like a stable American economy. But Christmas has NOTHING to do with a consumer economy. The angels were not rejoicing because Christmas sales were up as a result of the Christ being born. Get this: God’s Son was born into radical poverty. Mary ended up singing about how God would now finally help the poor and the hungry and the marginalized and the oppressed.

"Christmas" = the beginning of the "Great Reversal," where the proud, mighty, and rich are brought down and the poor, hungry, and lowly are exalted. (See Luke 1:46-55, e.g.)

I like the holidays. They remind me of times with my parents and brother when I was growing up. And times Linda and I had with our sons. They remind Linda and I of a son of ours, David, who died, which made one holiday season not so jolly. And they remind me of Linda's father Del, who lived with us for 6 1/2 years until he died on New year's Eve 2012. (Deck the halls with melancholy...)

Still, I like the holidays and I love Real Christmas Music (like "Trio Mediaeval," which I'm listening to right now). But mostly I love Jesus. When I became a follower of Jesus I left a life of drug and alcohol abuse forever. I doubt I’d be alive today if not for Jesus. Jesus still fills my life, now more than ever as I grow older. This time of the year is another opportunity to experience and encounter and think about the Christ, my Savior, and your’s too.

"Christmas" = love, worship, and adoration of Christ the Lord, King, Savior, Redeemer, Rescuer, Bondage-Breaker, Lamb of God, Revolutionary, promised Messiah, my Lord and my God.

On "deconstruction" see - More Thoughts on Deconstruction

Search Me, O God

University of Michigan campus. "Angry Neptune," by Michele Oka Doner.

Search me, O God, and know my heart.
- Psalm 139:23

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
You, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

- Psalm 139:1-6

I have gone to quiet places and sat silently before God for countless hours, requesting God to search me and know me. I cannot know myself fully. I am easily deceived about my self, thinking I am one thing while I am another.

I know a young man who declared he was a girl. He has a sad history of being marginalized, even by his Christian brothers and sisters. Now he's getting lots of attention because he says he is really a woman. Is he? In his case, I doubt it. He has succumbed to the insipid toxins our identity-less culture exudes. He's looking to be loved. He has not gone deep enough. He is incapable of going deep enough.

I can relate to this dilemma. I am close to my self, yet so far. I, too, am incapable of going deep enough. Theistic philosopher Dallas Willard writes:

"The hidden dimension of each human life is not visible to others, nor is it fully graspable even by ourselves. We usually know very little about the things that move in our own soul, the deepest level of our life, or what is driving it. Our "within" is astonishingly complex and subtle - even devious. It takes on a life of its own. Only God knows our depths, who we are, and what we would do." (Willard, Renovation of the Heart, 17)

At least I am aware that there is a profound epistemic gap between my feeble cognitive abilities and an omniscient God. This compels me to do the one thing I can, which is:

Get before God and pray, "Search me."

(A closing note for pastors: focus on identity.)

Friday, December 18, 2015

"The View" Discusses an Atheist Billboard

Praying: When the Requirement Became a Relationship

Nairobi, Kenya
Many years ago I was counseling a marriage where the woman wanted, more than anything, for her husband to co-partner with her in a life that follows Jesus. This hope  was placed in her heart before they were married. He promised he would do this. He went to church services with her, prayed with her, and they talked about their common faith.

Then they got married, and it all changed. He stopped talking with her and stopped worshiping God.

She felt desperate. He was worried she would leave him because he didn't keep his promises. So he promised again, this time in front of me, that he would go after a Jesus-guided life. She trusted again.

Less than a year later he was spiritually adrift. He made promises, created expectations, and broke them. She was taken in by a faith-relationship that was never really there. He got religious just to get her. Love for Jesus was in his mouth but not his heart.

When my recent Spiritual Formation class at Payne Theological Seminary ended I assigned students to get a prayer life and report to me. Will they continue praying? Some will not. Even though they told God they would before the entire class. I know this, from experience.

Some will. They will be like me and others who got a God-given prayer life years ago and have been immersed in the intimate God-relationship for years.

That is my hope and prayer for each of my students.

I am praying that my course requirement will become a relationship.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Praying People Abandon Themselves to the Will of God

Redeemer worship - 12/13/15
A praying person must abandon themselves to the will of God. If this is not true then "prayer" is a monologue led by myself, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing transcendent.

Real praying seeks God, not self. "Self" is what I want to be rid of; God is whom I must be found in.

The beauty of this is that once I set my own plans and ego aside and release myself into the being of God I get found by God. Here is where my true self emerges. I find myself and who I was always meant to be.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Unveiled Praying

Faces, by artist Gary Wilson

Henri Nouwen writes that, in the act of praying, I not only listen to God, I listen with God.

In praying I am not listening to some distant voice, but a voice that lives in me. To pray, therefore, is to dwell in the presence of God with all I have and am: with... fears and anxieties,

my guilt and shame,

my sexual fantasies,

my greed and anger,

my joys, successes, aspirations and hopes,

my reflections, dreams and mental wandering,

and most of all my people, family, friends and enemies,

in short, all that makes me who I am.[1]

In praying I come into God's presence. All of me. With God.

I allow God to speak to every corner of my being.

"This is very hard since we are so fearful and insecure that we keep hiding ourselves from God."[2]

My tendency is to only show God the parts of myself that are more presentable. This makes my praying very selective and narrow. "And not just our prayer but our self-knowledge, because by behaving as strangers before God we become strangers to ourselves."[3]

In 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 Paul writes:

"Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away…. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

To authentically pray I must turn toward the Lord with an unveiled mind, heart, and soul. As I pray God wants to lift the veil over my face and see-into-me (“intimacy”).

Thomas Merton comments: "The Spirit is given to me, the veil is removed from my heart, that I reflect "with open face" the glory of Christ. It would be easy to remain with one's heart veiled, and it is not by any wisdom of my own, but by God's gift, that it is unveiled."[4]

God allows me the choice of living veiled or unveiled, even though he sees behind the veil. This is an act of his grace. He won't force himself on me, but invites me to be voluntarily vulnerable. Just that thought makes me want to remove the veil over my heart when I come to God.

I can choose to keep my heart veiled before God, but this will make life harder. I will then fake it before God. I will become an actor, and acting takes work.

To live unveiled before God is my freedom. Unveiled living is the gateway to my experience of God's love, mercy, and grace. It becomes my foundation for holy living. It is the portal to contemplation of God.

As I turn my heart to God, in praying, I lift the veil.  

[1] See Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 83
[2] Ib.
[3] Ib., 83-84
[4] Thomas Merton, A Year with Thomas Merton, 23

Monday, December 14, 2015

Praying Is Bigger Than I Can Think and Wider Than the World

Worship at Redeemer, 12/13/15

In praying I encounter and experience God. In praying I know God and am known, reciprocally. Praying is a core way of abiding in Christ.

The biblical claim is that God has come to make his home in me.[1] God and I converse in the living room of my heart. When this is actualized the listening part of praying takes center stage. This is actual, real praying, and has little or no relation to reading books about prayer or saying "I believe in prayer but can't find the time for it."

In praying I am introduced to a world of moral and spiritual vastness. I communicate with the Maker of Heaven and Earth! James  Houston writes:

"Prayer is wider than the world, deeper than the heart, and older than the origin of humanity, because prayer originates from the very character of God. Its possibilities are infinite and so our explorations in prayer can be vast."[2]

When I was studying Old Testament theology in seminary one of the scholars I became familiar with was Walter Eichrodt. Houston gives this beautiful quote from Eichrodt,  illustrating the scope and sensitivity of a praying life.

"The man who knows God hears his step in the tramp of daily events, discerns him near at hand to help, and hears his answer to the appeal of prayer in a hundred happenings outwardly small and insignificant, where another man can talk only of remarkable coincidence, amazing accident, or peculiar turns of events. That is why periods when the life of faith is strong, and men have enthusiastically surrendered themselves to God, have also been times rich in miracles."[3]

To pray is to explore and venture into the vast, limitless regions of God’s beautiful kingdom. Praying is bigger than I can think and wider than the earthbound world.

[1] John 14:23
[2] James Houston, The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship With God, 75.
[3] Ib.