Friday, October 30, 2015

Fake (Faux) Renditions of Jesus

At Redeemer, beginning Sunday morning Nov. 22 and ending Sunday morning, Dec. 27, we're taking a break from preaching through the book of Revelation and give Six Messages On the Real Jesus. I am going to pour everything I know about Jesus into these messages!

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

Folk (faux) Christian ideas include:

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

(More On) Philosophical Zombies

I may present, tomorrow night in my Logic class, the argument against physicalism from the conceivability of philosophical zombies. This argument raises many important and interesting things regarding the epistemological problem of how the phenomenal is related to the physical. 

It is also significant to me because of the belief that, as Evan Fales states (p. 118), physicalism entails atheism. That is, if physicalism is true, then atheism is true. For Fales the opposite is not the case since he believes physicalism is "stronger" than atheism. One could be an atheist without being a physicalist, but not the other way around. If, therefore, physicalism is false, we then remove one reason that supports atheism. (If I was an atheist I'd be a physicalist, in spite of its internal incoherence.)

The zombie argument against physicalism, as stated by David Chalmers, is this:

1. If zombies are logically possible, then zombies are metaphysically possible.
2. If zombies are metaphysically possible, then physicalism is false.
3. Zombies are conceivable.
4. If zombies are conceivable, then zombies are logically possible.
5. Zombies are logically possible. (from 3 and 4, MP)
6. Zombies are metaphysically possible. (from 1 and 5, MP)
7. Physicalism is false. (from 2 and 6, MP)

P1 - Chalmers writes: “I confess that the logical possibility of zombies seems equally obvious to me (as that of a mile-high unicycle). A zombie is just something physically identical to me, but which has no conscious experience – all is dark inside.[…] I can discern no contradiction in the description. In some ways an assertion of this logical possibility comes down to a brute intuition, but no more so than with the unicycle.”

The existence of a mile-high unicycle is improbable but metaphysically possible.

P2 - This is because there could be no being that was physically identical to myself in every way yet lack something I have; viz., consciousness/qualia/the experience of what it is like to be myself. In other words, if physicalism is true one could not conceive of physicalism as true and at the same time conceive of a being physically identical to myself yet lacking something that I have; viz., consciousness.

P3 - We can conceive of zombies. Which means: we can think of a being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except that it lacks conscious experience, qualia, and sentience.

P4 - P5 - Zombies are, unlike square circles, logically possible.

P6 - Therefore zombies could exist, however unlikely this would be.

P7 - Combining P2 & P6 we get, applying modus ponens, the conclusion: "Physicalism is false."

For an excellent presentation of the zombie argument against physicalism see the essay in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Also check out David Chalmers's Zombies On the Web.

Patterns of Evidence: Does Archaeology Provide Evidence for the Biblical Exodus?

If I wasn't a pastor and could be something else I would be an archaeologist in Israel and Egypt. I've especially studied the archaeology of the biblical Exodus event. Finally, we have a dvd that puts this stuff together in a coherent and compelling presentation.

I'll show the award-winning documentary "Patterns of Evidence: Exodus,"  at Redeemer on Sunday night, Nov. 1, 6 PM.

It features many of the greatest Middle Eastern scholars and archaeologists.

For more than 50 years, the vast majority of the world’s most prominent archaeologists and historians have proclaimed that there is no hard evidence to support the Exodus story found in the Bible. In fact, they say that the archaeological record is completely opposed to the Bible’s account. This view of extreme skepticism has spread from academia to the world. The case against the Exodus appears to be so strong that even some religious leaders are labeling this ancient account as historical fiction.
Filmmaker Timothy Mahoney begins with the question, “Is the Bible just a myth, or did the archaeologists get it wrong?” He decides to tackle this issue with a deliberate scientific approach. After examining the details in the biblical text, he journeys across the globe to search for patterns of evidence firsthand. The result is the most in-depth archaeological investigation into the Exodus from Egypt ever captured on film.

The event is free - but I will take a love offering for anyone who wants to give to support Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Philosophy Vegetables

Roz Chaz, New Yorker

Snow Flying in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

I was born in Michigan's beautiful and rugged Upper Peninsula. We have pasties, snow, lakes, waterfalls, moose, bear, lynx, eagles, fish... and snow flying!

I've seen this huge snow flying runway. Watch the video - it's crazy! 

It's in Ironwood, Michigan, on top of Copper Peak which sits 1,180 feet above Lake Superior. The Peak has become a year-round tourist attraction, offering a host of activities including mountain biking and the “Copper Peak Adventure Ride” which is a chair lift to the top of the hill that offers a breathtaking 360-degree view of Lake Superior and the north woods below.

After a long awaited hiatus, this enormous structure will again see regular jumps and competition and the Nordic world is eagerly awaiting the return of the sport.

Dynamics of Spiritual Discernment as Consolation and Desolation

One of my prayer and discernment meeting places with God (Sterling State Park, Lake Erie) - a 7 mile bike ride from home.

No one writes better on the subject of spiritual discernment than Ruth Haley Barton, except for perhaps Henri Nouwen

How do we grow in discernment?

"Cultivating the habit of discernment means we are always seeking the movement of God's Spirit so we can abandon ourselves to it. Sometimes abandoning ourselves to the will of God is like floating down a river: we relax and allow the current of the river to carry us along. At other times it is more like trying to run the rapids or ride a large wave: we must keep our body and mind attuned to the dynamic of the water so we can ride it to its destination rather than being toppled by its force. Either way, we do not set the direction or the speed of the current; rather, we seek the best way to let the current carry us in the direction God has for us." (Barton, "Discernment As a Way of Life")

One important part of discernment is "discernment of spirits" (1 Corinthians 12:10). 1 John 4:1 instructs us to "test the spirits to see if they are from God." Barton writes:

"The discernment of spirits helps us to distinguish the real from the phony, the true from the false, in the external world but also in the interior world of our own thoughts and motives. As we become more attuned to these subtle spiritual dynamics, we are able to distinguish between what is good (that which moves us toward God and his calling upon our lives) and what is evil (that which draws us away from God)."

Barton draws on Ignatius' idea that the dynamics of spiritual discernment involve "consolation" and "desolation." 

"Consolation is the interior movement of the heart that gives us a deep sense of life-giving connection with God, others, and our authentic self. We may experience it as a sense that all is right with the world, that we are free to be given over to God and love, even in moments of pain and crisis. Desolation is the loss of a sense of God's presence; indeed, we feel out of touch with God, with others and with our authentic self. It might be an experience of being off-center, full of turmoil, confusion, and maybe even rebellion. Or we might sense our energy draining away, tension in our gut or tears welling in our eyes."

This is so helpful to me. I have found that these senses regularly accompany my experience of times of discernment. 

"For instance, you might be going through something very difficult—perhaps the death of someone close, or quitting a job, or ending a relationship that is not good for you. There certainly is sadness or fear and concern about the future. But underneath these emotions, you might also identify a deep sense of wellbeing—"the peace that passes understanding" (Philippians 4:7), God's presence comforting or leading you. This is consolation."

For more read the entire article.

See also Barton's beautiful book Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups

Trinidad Spiritual Formation Conference - Thank You!

Maracas Bay, Trinidad

Linda and I are home from our trip to Port of Spain, Trinidad. Thirty pastors and leaders from around the island came to our conference on Spiritual Formation and Leading the Presence-Driven Church. 

Thank you to Elder Wayne Johnathan Anthony and your team of leaders who put this together. The conference site was great, the restaurant was excellent, and the steel pan player was brilliant.

Special thanks to all who came to these meetings. What a beautiful group of Jesus-followers you are!

And thank you Godfrey for hosting me to preach at Sunday morning's worship service.

We saw God do many great things, and are talking about returning in the future.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Overflowing Cup Is Influence

I'm sitting on the outdoor patio of Ciao! Restaurant. I just finished my shark sandwich and am reflecting on the day, which began with a beautiful worship service at an A.M.E. church in Trinidad, a home-cooked dinner of local food with savory sauces that Linda loved topped off with homemade peanut ice cream, and a winding drive through Trinidad's northern mountains down to palm-and-sand laden Maracas Bay.

Maracas Bay overlook
When I was praying under the hot Caribbean sun Friday morning I was meditating on Psalm 23. As I said You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, my cup overflows, the thought came to me: the overflowing cup is influence.

 The good things God is doing in my Soul Restoration Project spills over onto my enemies.

God is not simply filling my personal heart-cup to the brim and leaving it at that. The brim-filled Restoration is about overflow, in the presence of my enemies, splishing and splashing upon the spirits of my enemies.

What God does in me is used to influence others, including those who do not take so kindly to me.

Overflow influences whomever appears in the way of my life.
Linda, Maracas Bay, Trinidad

Trinidad - Day 3

Linda and I are in Port of Spain, Trinidad where I just finished a 2-day conference on Spiritual Formation and Leading the Presence-Driven Church. We had a wonderful time with many new friends who are leaders in the A.M.E. Church here. We've eaten great food (blue marlin, swordfish, and other local delicacies), seen God do great things, and were honored by one of Trinidad's excellent steel pan drummers (that brought tears to Linda's eyes).

This morning I'm preaching at an A.M.E. church in Port of Spain on "Blessings and Curses." Then we're being hosted by a pastor and his family and authentic Caribbean cuisine. In the afternoon  we'll drive to the beautiful north ocean beaches on the island and eat a Trinidadian specialty - bacon-wrapped shark.

Be back in Monroe Monday night with many stories to tell, plus a vision God gave me that involves Trinidad and empowering its Christian leaders who are hungry and ready for more equipping.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Flying to Trinidad Today

Today Linda and I fly to Port of Spain, Trinidad. 

On Friday and Saturday I'll be speaking and teaching on Spiritual Formation and Leading the Presence-Driven Church to pastors and leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Port of Spain. We look forward to making some new friends and seeing God do great things!

On Sunday morning I'll preach in an A.M.E. church on "Blessings and Curses."

The conference schedule:

Spiritual Formation and Transformation: How God Changes Lives

John Piippo, PhD

* Leading the Presence-Driven Church

* Servant Leadership: How God Molds His Leaders Into Servants


9:00 am Session 1 - Introduction and approach.

Participants out to pray

Small group sharing

Large group sharing 

12 noon Lunch

1:30 pm Session 11 - Theology of Spiritual Formation

5:00 pm Session 111 - Leading the Presence-Driven Church


9:00 am Participants out to pray

12 noon Lunch

1:30 pm Servant Leadership.

"Humility As the Foundation for Christian Leadership."

Monday, October 19, 2015

What Spiritual Transformation Is For

Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin

Linda and I are flying to Port of Spain, Trinidad this Thursday. I will lead a conference for A.M.E. pastors and leaders on Friday and Saturday, and preach in an A.M.E. church on Sunday morning. 

I'll speak on spiritual transformation, prayer, and leading the presence-driven church. The real deal when it comes to spiritual transformation is about more than personal well-being. As Henri Nouwen has said, the Spirit-produced change happening in me is also for others. And, following Psalm 23, the transformation is "for His name's sake."

Ruth Haley Barton state this well. She writes:

"As we are changed into more loving, surrendered Christ-followers, we become the presence of Christ in the world that God loves and sent his only Son to save. We are able to join others on whatever hard road they are traveling and discern loving, God-guided response to their need. We learn that, indeed, all true Christian spiritual formation is

  • for the glory of God, 
  • for the abundance of our own lives 
  • and for the sake of others, 
or it is not Christian formation." 
- Barton, Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, Kindle Locations 173-176

Kafka's Metamorphosis Redux

New Yorker, Thursday, October 15
See Die Verwandlung

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Problem of Human Unsaturatedness & the Pauline Secret of Contentment

Tomas Sedlacek , in Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street, gives a history of economics as found in the grand stories of Western culture. He begins with the Epic of Gilgamesh to show that "economics" is not some value-neutral discipline using the "objective" tools of mathematics and science. 

The Gilgamesh story contrasts the mythical figures Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Enkidu is transformed from a creature of nature who has few needs or wants (since animal needs are minimal) into a human, a "civilized person." One of the results of this transformation is that Enkidu's felt needs increase.  

Sedlacek uses the story to make applications to Western culture, where "people are not able to satisfy their needs even with the riches and technology of the twenty-first century." Enkidu was happy in his natural state, because all his needs were satisfied. But with "civilized people," "it appears that the more a person has, the more developed and richer, the greater the number of his needs (including the unsaturated ones). If a consumer buys something, theoretically it should rid him of one of his needs - and the aggregate of things they need should be decreased by one item. In reality, though, the aggregate of "I want to have" expands together with the growing aggregate of "I have."" (K, 7%)

Sedlacek cites economist George Stigler, who was aware of "human unsaturatedness." "The chief thing which the common-sense individual wants is not satisfactions for the wants he had, but more, and better wants." (Ib.)

In America people have a perpetual unsaturatedness. As products of our Western culture we are forever unsatieted, always dissatisfied. 

The achievement of a biblical contentment would be the ruin of Western civilization. This Pauline secret is stated in Philippians 4:12 - I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Sedlacek tells us that, without this antidote, contentment-as-saturatedness is forever beyond our reach.

Cakes By Stephanie in Monroe

NBC Toledo came to Monroe to check out Cakes By Stephanie.

The video is HERE.

For the past 12 years, Cakes By Stephanie in Monroe, Michigan, has been the go-to place when it comes to getting a cake. The bakery works hard each day to make wedding cakes, pies, cookies and other treats.
Cakes By Stephanie cakes can be found in some local restaurants around town as well. They provide cakes for The Oregon Inn, a restaurant in Oregon, OH.
The most popular cake you will find at Cakes By Stephanie is the Ho ho cake. It was designed to taste just like a Hostess Ho ho. Complete with chocolate cake, cream filling and chocolate ganache! Yum!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lucian Freud: Hellish Contours of a A Self-Centered Life

Jogger on the River Raisin, Monroe, MI

One of Lucian Freud's paintings was auctioned off for $33.6 million. Freud, the grandson of Sigmund Freud, was charismatic, brilliant, and self-centered to the end (died 2011). All this is biographed in Geordie Greig's book Breakfast with Lucian, reviewed here


  • had vast gambling debts
  • had literally hundreds of lovers
  • fathered many children by many mothers
  • painted his adult daughters nude - "They sat for him because it gave them the chance, perhaps their only chance, to spend time with him."
  • had three children in one year alone, to three different women
  • openly liked some of his children better than others
  • "systematically sought out and seduced the teenaged daughters and nieces of his former friends and lovers... Greig describes a shameful episode in which Freud slept with the extremely fragile daughter of a woman who had left him many years before. Not long afterwards this young woman died of a heroin overdose, at 17."
  • tore into waiters at restaurants and got into fist fights for no apparent reason 
  • "...fell out with people, sometimes spectacularly. He very seldom forgave."

How sad. To rarely forgive is to be filled with bitterness.

But... Freud was a brilliant artist? Does this make a difference? Cressida Connoley writes:

"Does being an important artist absolve Freud? While his stature as a painter is not, of course, affected by his private affairs, in the end this aspect of his life diminishes him and the myth of himself he took such pains to construct. The enchantment, the wit, the mystery, even the brooding and hawk-like physical beauty lose their allure."

Thomas Merton wrote that "self-love is the source of all boredom and all restlessness and all unquiet and all misery and all unhappiness - ultimately, it is hell." 

The self-centered person is a diminished soul. Self-centeredness grows the soul smaller and smaller and smaller until nothing remains, like the hellish souls who become less real in C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Contentment as Learning How to Live Without Things

In Brasilia (Nov. 2014)
What's one of the best meals you have ever eaten? For Linda and I the dinner we had with Bruce and Ann Borquist at Fogo de Chão in Brasilia ranks near the top. Someone treated us to this incredible eating experience (all 4 of us say thank you - what a great gift! And yes, I did eat the dessert you recommended.). I felt very content after this meal and time together! 

Experiences like this are better is when one's contentment is not a function of circumstances. As the apostle Paul once wrote, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances, whether I abound or whether I am abased." As we ate that incredible Brazilian meal we were able to see it as a gift, not as a right or entitlement. This makes the food taste better. (BTW - I'm now reading John Townsend's book The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success In Doing Things the Right Way.)

Philip Yancey shares this story In his excellent book on prayer. 

"I remembered reading the account of a spiritual seeker who interrupted a busy life to spend a few days in a monastery. “I hope your stay is a blessed one,” said the monk who showed the visitor to his cell. “If you need anything, let us know and we’ll teach you how to live without it.”" (Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Locations 1012-1015) 

The biblical idea of contentment is circumstance-independent. As are peace, joy, love and so on. The "fruit of the Spirit" is circumstance-independent. Were this not so things like inner peace would be conditional, and that's bad news for all of us. (That is, "IF I have _________, THEN I will have inner peace." 

The freer a person is inwardly the better life tastes. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Being Useless and Silent in the Presence of God Belongs to the Core of All Prayer

I prayed here - 10/10/15 (Lake Michigan shoreline, Muskegon)

My deeper prayer odyssey began in 1982 when I took my Bible, a clean journal, and A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Others Servants to a field north of Lansing, Michigan, found a rusty old tractor, mounted it, and sat for four hours. And prayed. On that day God met me with such gentle force that I have never looked back. I became a praying person.

I love spending time with God, speaking and listening to Him. I bloom while praying. Henri Nouwen writes:

"We simply need quiet time in the presence of God. Although we want to make all our time, time for God, we will never succeed if we do not reserve a minute, an hour, a morning, a day, a week, a month, or whatever period of time for God and God alone." (Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 94)

The day I prayed on the abandoned tractor was a Tuesday. Today, 33 years later, is Tuesday. This is my day with God; this is God's day with me. I believe God looks forward to this time with me. I am his child, and God loves spending time with his kids. A morning with God, today.

I will never forget how I began that tractor-time thinking, "This feels like doing nothing, a waste of time." Nouwen writes:

"[Taking praying time with God] asks for much discipline and risk taking because we always seem to have something more urgent to do and "just sitting there" and "doing nothing" often disturbs us more than it helps. But there is no way around this. Being useless and silent in the presence of God belongs to the core of all prayer. In the beginning we often hear our own unruly inner noises more loudly than God's voice. This is at times very hard to tolerate." (Ib.)

I tolerated it. I hung in there. I stayed. For five hours. I prayed "Search me, O God." And He did. I knew in my mind and experienced in the depths of my being that God was with me, living in me, His holy presence. Now I couldn't leave. I was spirit-glued to the tractor seat. I opened my journal and wrote, and wrote, and wrote...  as best I could to capture what God was saying and doing to me. 

"But slowly, very slowly, we discover that the silent time makes us quiet and deepens our awareness of ourselves and God. Then, very soon, we start missing these moments when we are deprived of them, and before we are fully aware of it an inner momentum has developed that draws us more and more into silence and closer to that still point where God speaks to us." (Ib.)

Do I miss these moments with God? Yes and no. Yes, when I feel overwhelmed by the incessant struggles of this crazy world. No, because I have never stopped meeting with God. This is my day, my time, with Him. This is my week and my month and my year with Him. 

This is my life, with God.

Monday, October 12, 2015

God Is Not Supportive of Your "Comfort Zone" (Bleeding In the Zone of Universal Discomfort)

Baptism in the uncomfortable 37 degree waters of Lake Michigan, 10/10/15
On occasion I hear someone speak about their "comfort zone." This refers to the environment they feel comfort in. The arena where they feel safe. The place where they are not for the most part "uncomfortable." 

I think I understand this. It's utilitarianism gone berserk in the absence of God. It's the H-god. It's "Happiness" - "Clap along if you think that happiness is the truth, Because I'm happy." (See The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being. See also: "If Everything Is So Amazing, Why's Nobody Happy?") 

The idea of a "comfort zone" is a historically recent European and North American invention which has nothing to do with God's plans and purposes. (See Happiness Industry - the "comfort zone" is rooted in the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham.) You will find great promises of peace and rest throughout the Scriptures. You will not find comfort zone maintenance there.

In Scripture we see that what really pleases God is "faith." We are told that without faith it is impossible to please God.

Which means: without following Jesus on his redemptive mission to the world it is impossible to please God. Which entails going into places and situations and the lives of people where, to be honest, you would rather not go. (See here, e.g.) Faith always goes from comfort to discomfort. That is its nature.

"Faith" is RISK. Obedience by faith always takes us into the Discomfort Zone for the Cause of Christ. Think here of missionaries. Then, think of yourself as a missionary planted where you are. 

This past week 11 Jesus-followers in Syria had their fingers chopped off before they were brutalized, beaten, raped, beheaded, and then hung on crosses(see international news reports here). Because they refused to deconvert from Christianity and convert to Islam. Two Christian women, aged 28 and 33, were raped in front of their spiritual brothers and sisters. A UK news report reads:

"The reports of the savagery came from a ministry leader Christian Aid assists, who spoke with relatives and villagers.

“Villagers said some were praying in the name of Jesus, others said some were praying the Lord’s Prayer, and others said some of them lifted their heads to commend their spirits to Jesus,” the ministry director said.
“One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, ‘Jesus!’”
Their bodies were hung on crosses for display after they were killed, he added."
As Jesus died on the cross he was bleeding in the Zone of Universal Discomfort, for you and me. He did not come to furnish your man-cave. He calls us to a life of faith that is accomplished by cross-bearing into this world's present darkness. 

In Revelation 14:4 we read this about the martyrs who refused to worship the beast: They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

It will be uncomfortable. 

It will be redemptive.

The people will rejoice.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pick Up Your Guns and Follow Me?

Bill Day
Surely the solution to gun violence in America is not more guns, so that we get everyone packing armor. 

"Everyone should start carrying guns." Really? Are you kidding me? Like that will help and make us safer?

More guns in the hands of more people will only perpetuate violence. 

As for people who label themselves "Christians" it is instructive to note that Jesus didn't say "Take up your weapons and follow me." But Jesus did say "Take up your cross and follow me." Which means: Instead of kill other people, die for them. If everyone did this (which will not of course happen on this earth) the world would be turned upside-down. Which means real churches should be gun-free zones, right?

Here's a quiz.

Which one is the Real Jesus?

Thursday, October 08, 2015

10 Minutes of Praying

Conference on Spiritual Formation and Prayer, Eldoret, Kenya
Prayer is talking with God about what we are thinking and doing together. By "we" I mean: God and I.

Praying is talking and listening, to God.

If you are struggling to find time to do this every day in a focused way, I recommend beginning with 10 Minutes of Praying. Lay aside the guilt-producing thought "But it's only 10 minutes and that doesn't seem like much." I predict that if you begin this today and continue it for the rest of your life, you will change, dramatically, into greater and greater Jesus-likeness. And, you will experience times when 10 minutes will turn into an hour with God. You will experience God so powerfully that chronos will turn into kairos.

Henri Nouwen writes:

"You need to set aside some time every day for active listening to Jesus, if only for ten minutes. Ten minutes each day for Jesus alone can bring about a radical change in your life." (Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 89)

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

10 Things About Heaven

This is worth posting - New Testament scholar Scot McKnight's "10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Heaven."

For more see McKnight's newest book - The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible's Truth About Life to Come.  Some reviews are...

“I’m genuinely excited by The Heaven Promise. With so many fascinated by the conversation of heaven and even near-death experiences, McKnight calls us to see heaven through the lens of Scripture and the redemption story of God in Christ. It’s both theologically robust and very accessible. This book speaks to pastors and leaders in the church as well as to parishioners in the pews. What a gift!”
—Rev. Eugene Cho, senior pastor, Quest Church, and author of Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?

“This book—grounded in solid research and biblical interpretation—actually stirs up a longing for heaven. It’s a busting up of stereotypes and misconceptions. Thank you, Scot McKnight, for painting a picture of a place I would actually love to be for eternity!”
—Nancy Beach, leadership coach with Slingshot Group, and author of Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church

“What a terrific book! Scot lays out the great questions about heaven—What will it be like? Who’s going there?—and seeks to address them with biblically grounded wisdom.”
—John Ortberg, senior pastor, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, and author of All the Places to Go

“I serve in a community where hopelessness and resilience coexist and the constant reality of death looms daily. Hope and clarity about heaven’s promise are truly needed to empower the church, especially among those most affected by these realities. Scot McKnight helps the church to realize God’s truth about the life to come. This brings hope for us in the now.”
—Pastor Phil Jackson, MDiv, associate pastor of Lawndale Christian Community Church; lead pastor of The House, Christ-Centered Hip-Hop Worship Service; and founder and chief visionary officer of the Firehouse Community Art Center

“Fanciful visions and imaginative opinions of heaven are all around us. Thankfully Scot McKnight moves us beyond the realm of wishes to the great promise of heaven given us by God. With wit, care, and fine biblical insight, this book offers a clear understanding of the hope we have for life with God in a heavenly kingdom far better than we can imagine. The Heaven Promise is a gift to the church.”
—Vincent Bacote, PhD, director, Center for Applied Christian Ethics, Wheaton College

“Scot McKnight’s timely words help us understand the importance of God’s Heaven Promise at a time when the world—and the church—is reeling from one tragedy after another. His biblical approach firmly grounds the imagination, reminding us that God is All in All. I agree with Scot that everything hinges on the resurrection of Jesus, and that means not only the heaven to come, but also the way heaven people live now. We cannot know everything about heaven now, but what we can understand makes us want to say with the apostle John, ‘Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!’”
—Dr. Kent Brantly, Ebola survivor and co-author of Called

Our Building Addition for our Children's Ministry - Opportunity to Invest

The bricking of our new building addition is completed!
If you read my blog - thank you!

At Redeemer we are getting closer to finishing our 5500 sq. ft. building addition dedicated solely to our children and ministering to them and discipling them in the Jesus Way.

I just sent out, to our people, a letter from our Children's Leader Holly Benner. It's an opportunity to invest in what we are doing by purchasing gifts to equip our new nursery room.

I'm certain this is not for all of you. But if God leads you to invest in what we are doing - thank you!


Our children's wing is coming along beautifully and quickly! Soon the rooms will be painted, cabinetry will be installed, floors finished and organization will begin! Chairs and tables have been ordered and I personally just spent 374 hours with Jan & Debbie picking out rugs & kid decor...needless to say, I'm getting excited to unveil this space to our kids and families! 

Our classrooms are in need of furnishings and new supplies. I've created a "baby registry" through Babies R Us with specific furniture, supplies and toys for our kids. If you would be interested in helping us fill this new space, below are the instructions for how you can find our registry, shop online and even have these donations shipped right to the church.

Thank you for your support of our kids and your continued prayers for this new beginning! 


Holly Benner

1. Go to

2.  click on "baby registry"

3.  Search by first and last name: Redeemer Fellowship OR search by registry number: 57098360 

4.  Scroll down and click on "Redeemer Fellowship"

5305 Evergreen Drive
Monroe, MI 48161

God Works! Family Soup Kitchen - 10 Years!

Ten years ago we began a soup kitchen for our Monroe community, thanks to the great leadership on Jeff Weaver. It was my privilege to be on the initial board of directors. 

God Works feeds 75-150 people every night, every week, every month, for the past ten years.

See here for the article in the Monroe Evening News. 

Daniel Dennett - A Bad Reason to Reject Intercessory Prayer

Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio
When atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett faced life-or-death surgery some of his Christian friends (yes, Dennett has such) were praying for him. Of course Dennett feels praying is a waste of time, but the fact that these friends were "thinking of him" proved to be "a wonderful tonic." (Daniel Dennett, "Thank Goodness," in Louise Antony, ed., Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, 116)

Obviously, on atheism prayer doesn't work since prayer has no Listener. Dennett writes: "We now have quite solid grounds (e.g., the recently released Benson study at Harvard) for believing that intercessory prayer simply doesn't work." (Ib.)

What about the Benson study? It's one of a number of studies on the efficacy of intercessory prayer. In 1988 Dr. Randolph Byrd published "Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit Population" (Southern Journal of Medicine). Of this study Indiana University professor Candy Brown writes:

"It was a prospective, randomized, double-blinded, controlled study-the gold standard of rigorous scientific research-that enrolled 400 subjects and found positive effects from distant intercessory prayer "to the Judeo-Christian God." Protestant and Catholic "born-again" Christians were given the patient's first name, condition, and diagnosis. Intercessors were instructed to pray "for a rapid recovery and for prevention of complications and death." Patients in the prayer group had less congestive heart failure, fewer cardiac arrests, fewer episodes of pneumonia, were less often intubated and ventilated, and needed less diuretic and antibiotic therapy." (Candy Gunther Brown, "How Should Prayer Be Studied?")

In 1989 Dr. William Harris published, in the Archives of Internal Medicine, "A randomized, controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit." This was:

"a prospective, randomized, double-blind, parallel group controlled trial of the effects of intercessory prayer on 990 coronary patients. The group that received prayer from intercessors who believed in a "personal God who hears and answers prayers made on behalf of the sick" had better outcomes than the control group." (Brown, op. cit.)

And Candy Gunther Brown has more recently published Testing Prayer: Science and Healing (2012) and "Study of the therapeutic effects of proximal intercessory prayer (STEPP) on auditory and visual impairments in rural Mozambique" (Southern Journal of Medicine, Oct. 2010). 

The Benson study (Dr. Herbert Benson) was published in the American Heart Journal in 2006 ("Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer: Study Design and Research Methods"). Candy Brown writes:

"Similar to Byrd and Harris, Benson led a prospective, randomized controlled trial that enrolled 1,800 coronary patients. Intercessors were given the first name and first initial of the last name of each subject and told to pray "for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications."
The New York Times(link is external) picked up on Benson's conclusion: patients who received intercessory prayer fared no better than those who did not. And those who knew they were the recipients of prayer actually did worse—presumably because of anxiety that their condition seemed bad enough to warrant prayer."
OK. But...   

"What the New York Times did not advertise is that many of the intercessors enrolled by Benson may not have qualified for inclusion in either Byrd's or Harris's study. This is because the only Protestant intercessors enrolled belonged to Silent Unity of Lee's Summit, Missouri. Unity is a New Thought group, a New Religious Movement that traces its origins to the late nineteenth century. Unity leaders have long denied that prayer works "miracles," and have even called petitionary prayer "useless." Rather than understanding prayer as supplication to a personal deity outside the self, many Unity practitioners envision prayer as affirmative thoughts and words." (Brown, op. cit.) 

The Benson study, therefore, is an example of how study methods may predetermine results. Unity "pray-ers" adhere to "a very different idea of prayer than that held by many other Christians—such as the Pentecostal and Charismatic groups that are experiencing wildfire global growth because of their expectant prayers for healing and dramatic claims of answered prayers. Consequently, Benson's results do not say anything about whether or not the prayer methods used by Protestant "born-again" or pentecostal Christians are effective." (Ib.)

Brown says there is an additional problem with the Benson study:

"Most researchers—like Byrd, Harris, and Benson—focus on distant intercessory prayer. Intercessors are given the first name and condition of someone they do not know and told to pray for a complication-free recovery. Researchers base conclusions on the efficacy of prayer solely on whether subjects in the experimental group exhibit better health than those in the control group.
But when people actually pray for healing, they often get up close to someone they know, touch the person, and empathize with their sufferings—what I call proximal intercessory prayer, or PIP. Double-blinded, controlled trials are not the only—or even the best—way to gauge the effects of this kind of prayer practice." (Op. cit.  For more see Brown's Testing Prayer.) 
So, Daniel Dennett's "solid grounds" for believing "intercessory prayer doesn't work" appear to be shifting sands. Thanks to the Internet we can always find "reasons" in support of whatever position we hold. In the meantime I have decided to continue, today, my 45-year experiment in intercessory praying.