Thursday, March 31, 2016

Lost in Translation - Abortion and the Inborn Child

Church, in Columbus, Ohio

X was twenty-two years old when she asked to meet with us. She said, "I have something I need to share with you." We waited for X to call. She didn't.

X was in our church family. When we saw her again she said, "I am going to call you. I need to share something with you."

We waited. She didn't. And she said the same thing the next time Linda and I saw her.

We waited again. She called. Linda, X, and I met together.

"I have something I need to tell you," said X, with her head hanging down. We waited. For thirty minutes. Finally X said, through breathless tears, "Two years ago I had an abortion."

And X wept and wept.

Why did X weep? Why so sad, X? Because in X's mind, she killed her child.

At this point I am glad some of you were not there with X, because some of you believe X did not kill her child. Some of you believe that what X thought was her child was a non-person, a lump of fleshy matter, and nothing more. You would have told X that the "whatever" in her uterus was not really her child. You would have counseled X that she really didn't kill her child, and because it wasn't her baby, and yes it is wrong to kill babies and children and persons, it wasn't any of those things. I am thankful you were not there to comfort X with these philosophical ideas. They would not have helped her as she grieved at thought of her child now being two years old.

X knew that killing her child was wrong. X was brought low over choosing herself over her baby. This is why X wanted to talk with Linda and I. X wanted to know how she could go on with her life.

Abortion is not illegal in America. But, as X knew existentially, it ought to be. At least Donald Trump is right about this. The core issue, which is lost in all the current political obscurity, is the nature of the whatever in the womb. Is it a person? X knew it was.

(See the argument here. And here.)



One Final Thought - A Month of Hearing God: Day 31

Lilacs, in my front yard
At Redeemer the month of March has been a month of hearing God. My prayer is that we are now a greater listening community - to God, and to one another.

Here is a final thought, which is only the beginning of greater revelation from God.


If you indeed cry out for insight, 
and raise your voice for understanding, 
if you seek it like silver, 
and search for it as for hidden treasures— 
then you will understand the fear of the LORD 
and find the knowledge of God.

Proverbs 2:3-5

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

God Revealed Himself to D.L. Moody - A Month of Hearing God: Day 30

Downtown Monroe
D.L. Moody had many years of successful ministry, when one day he had a powerful experience with God. Moody writes:

"I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it, it is almost too sacred an experience to name… I can only say God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths; and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world; it would be as small dust in the balance.” (In Dallas Willard, Hearing God, 49)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ricky Gervais's Fuzzy, Funny Logic of Atheism


(I'm doing this just for laughs.)

I came across this quote from comedian-atheist Ricky Gervais:

"An atheist doesn't necessarily believe that no god exists. They just don't believe that any god exists. That difference confuses some."

Huh? I am confused.

Consider the statement 1) No god exists. Gervais says an atheist doesn't necessarily believe 1. This means an atheist may believe 1. The atheist who "doesn't necessarily believe" 1 may, on the other hand, not believe 1. Which means: No god exists is believed to be false.

Let's try this. 2) It is false that no god exists. Which means: 3) A god exists.

Now let's look at Gervais's second sentence. Consider this statement: 4) Any god exists. An atheist, according to Gervais, believes 4 is false. An atheist does not believe 4.

Now 'atheism' means, literally, 'no god(s).' This is from the alpha privative 'a,' which negates 'theos.' So 'atheism' seems to be the belief that there is/are no god(s). This is the affirmation of statement 1. But Gervais says an atheist doesn't necessarily believe 1 is true. An atheist does not believe there is no god. That is, the statement (because a belief is a statement) there is no god is false. If it is false that there is no god, then it is true that there is a god. But if the statement any god exists is false (as Gervais seems to think), then the statement there is no god is also false. Please remember that Gervais is a comedian.

Gervais goes on to attempt to clarify this hideous mess. He tweets: "We all KNOW whether we BELIEVE in God or not. We just don't have any real knowledge of whether God actually exists or not."

But a 'belief' is a knowledge claim. That is, a belief is a statement; a statement is a sentence that is either true or false. So when the atheist states I do not believe there is a god this is the same as saying there is a god is false. (For the idea that a belief is a claim to knowledge see any logic text, like the one I use in my logic classes - Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking.)

One more point, referring to Gervais's original tweet. 'No' and 'not any' mean the same thing. There are no bugs in this room says the same thing as There are not any bugs in this room. So, It is false that any god exists says the same thing as It is true that no god exists. It's the "belief" thing that Gervais screws up since, to repeat, a belief is a statement that one affirms as true (such as I believe that Barack Obama is currently President of the United States).

One of Gervais's strong claims to knowledge is his belief that: 5) We don't have any knowledge of whether God actually exists or not. But how does Gervais know this is true? There are multiple arguments that conclude with Therefore, God exists. And, there are some arguments that conclude with Therefore, God does not exist. Philosophical atheists who conclude the latter supply premises which, if true, intend to provide reasons to know that God does not exist. The conclusion of an argument is always a knowledge claim. Personally, I doubt Gervais could defend the truth of 5 which, again, he claims to know is true. Perhaps he takes it by faith? And then engages in question-begging?

***
"Critical thinking is a rational, systematic process that we apply to beliefs of all kinds. As we use the term here [i.e., in logic], belief is just another word for statement, or claim. A statement is an assertion that something is or is not the case...  So statements, or claims [i.e., beliefs] are the kinds of things that are either true or false. They assert that some state of affairs is or is not actual."  - Vaughn, op. cit., 9.

How To Keep A Spiritual Journal - A Month of Hearing God: Day 29



Sterling State Park, Monroe - One of my favorite prayer places

I've been keeping a spiritual journal for almost 40 years. I have read and responded to over 2000 spiritual journals that pastors and Christian leaders have sent to me as part of seminary classes, retreats, and conferences I have taught. Here are my thoughts on keeping a spiritual journal.

A spiritual journal is a record of the voice and activity of God to you. When God speaks to you, write it down. To do that is to keep a spiritual journal.

Apart from this, people write differently. Some include lots of detail, such as the place where they are praying at, prayer concerns, and biblical exegesis. But the core of the journal is: God's words, spoken to you. When I read the journals of others that's what I am looking for. What is God saying to you? What is God doing with you?

When your mind wanders it may be helpful to write down, in your journal, where it wanders to. The mind does not wander arbitrarily, but always to something like a burden. The wandering mind is a barometer of your current spiritual condition. Then, following 1 Peter 5:7, "cast your burden on God, for he cares for you." I find it helpful to get the burden on paper. To see it on paper makes it feel like its not inside me any longer; it's at a distance from me. De-burdening is an important part of entering into God's presence more fully. We have a greater focus on God because we are not so distracted by our burdens.

If keeping a spiritual journal is writing down what God says to me, how can I know it's really the voice of God? I have found that one better hears God's voice when they:

1) Saturate themselves with Scripture.
2) Spend MUCH time alone in God's presence.
3) Interacts with other Jesus-followers who spend much time in God's presence.

There are also some good books about this, such as Dallas Willard's Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God.

Because the spiritual journal is a record of God's voice to you, it is fruitful to occasionally re-read and re-meditate on your journal. A number of the things God tells you will be thematic in your life. It is important to remember such things. "Remembering" is huge in a person's spiritual life. When we have a written record of God's words for us it can be easier to remember them as we re-ponder them anew. The maxim here is: "I will not forget God's words to me."

A spiritual journal, because it is a record of God's voice to you, is about you. Not others. Yes, I sometimes write about others in my journal. For example, I pray for others. If I'm upset with someone I use letters such as 'X' to refer to those persons. I don't want my journal to be found or read by someone with whom I'm angry with. When I write down such things before God I'm primarily asking God to help, not 'X,' but me, and with anger inside me.

Finally, what can you expect God to say to you? My experience tells me that God will say things like: his love for you, things he wants to heal inside you, things you need to repent of in your life, that he forgives you, things about his essence (the glory of who he is), give you deeper insights on Scripture, and so on. And, God impart things to you. When this happens to me I write down things like grace, mercy, peace, joy, love, hope, and power.

I don't believe journaling is for everybody. But remembering is. So is entering deeply into God's presence and hearing his voice.

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Month of Hearing God: Day 28

Monroe County Courthouse

Dallas Willard asks, “Should we expect anything else, given the words of Scripture and the heritage of the Christian Church?” (Willard, Hearing God Through the Year, 12)

The ancient Israelites heard the voice of God speaking to them out of the fire (Deut. 4:33). The prophet Isaiah had first-hand experience in hearing from God. Isaiah 58:9, 11 says:
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I…
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail. 

I am certain we can hear from God, for these reasons:

1. Scripture tells us we can and should expect to hear from God.

2. Personal experience has verified this for me.

3. The testimonies of many other Jesus-followers throughout history attests to the reality of God speaking to his people, both individually and corporately.

4. “Prayer” defined as “taking with God about what we are doing together” implies that God is our dialogical partner.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Month of Hearing God: Day 27 - An Invitation to Hear God

Downtown Monroe

Willard states that hearing God is to be part of the normal Christian life. He writes:

"God has created us for intimate friendship with himself—both now and forever. This is the Christian viewpoint. It is made clear throughout the Bible, especially in passages such as...

...Exodus 29:43-46 [God will meet with us]; 

...Exodus 33:11 [God spoke with Moses face to face, as one speaks with a friend]; 

...Psalm 23 [God shepherds us]; 

...Isaiah 41:8 [God is our friend]; 

...John 15:14 [Christ is our friend],

...and Hebrews 13:5-6 [God will never leave us or forsake us; God is our helper]. 

As with all close personal relationships, God can be counted on to speak to each of us when and as it’s appropriate." (Kindle Locations 108-111)

God loves you...
... desires to meet with you...
... speaks to you as a friend...
... has not left you alone...
... helps you.

1. If I am one of Jesus' sheep, then I will hear his voice.
2. I am one of Jesus' sheep.
3. Therefore,.....

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Is the Jesus-Story a Legend?

The Lake of Galilee


Some time ago I was dialoguing about the historical Jesus on our city newspaper's chat area. My dialogue partner wrote the following:

"I do not believe Jesus was a real person. I believe the Jesus of the Bible is a mish-mash of previous “Sons of God” or “Sun Gods” such as Osiris, Mithras or Dionysus, all were born of virgins, all were martyred. All were resurrected. It’s just a re-telling of the old tales into a new tale. Take Saul (Paul). When he was talking about Jesus, he didn’t even know if a physical Jesus existed. He was talking about the spiritual entity. He didn’t even know he was supposedly Crucified or the “Christmas” story."

OK. Not the most scholarly thing to write. But, thanks to the internet, there are some people who buy into this kind of thing. To the idea that the Jesus-story is "just a re-telling of an old tale" I would say things like the following, a lot of which is directly taken from two books by Greg Boyd and George : 1) The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition; and 2) Lord or Legend: Wrestling With the Jesus Dilemma. I have also used material from N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God.


#1 – The similarities between the Jesus-story and existing legends are superficial at most.


Some of the legends sound like the Jesus story. There are, for example, legends of others being born of a virgin. And, there are legends of others that were said to have risen from the dead. But if you examine these parallels in detail, you find that most of the commonalities are superficial.

For example, one of the legends frequently cited by legendary-Jesus theorists “concerns a second-century itinerant teacher and wonder-worker named Apollonius of Tyana.” (Boyd & Eddy, Lord or Legend?, 56) This legend says that Apollonius rose from the dead. This is written by Philostratus, who’s writing 150 years after Appolonius lived. The supposed resurrection comes down to this: There’s a lady who had a dream. Appolonius appeared to her in a dream.

But that’s not a resurrection. It is, perhaps, a post-mortem vision. But this has nothing in common with the Gospel stories, which has Jesus hanging out with people for 40 days, having breakfast with his disciples, and letting someone feel his side.

There are legends about others having a virgin birth, like Plato supposedly had a virgin birth. The virgin-birth legends all happen after Christianity has spread into the world. People saw Christians claiming that Jesus had a virgin birth, so they begin to claim that their hero had a virgin birth to compete with Christianity. (See N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God)

Re. so-called “similar” myths, Boyd, Eddy, and Wright all argue that when you get down to the details there’s very little in common.

#2 - Legends usually take a lot of time to develop. (See Boyd & Eddy, both references) A story gets told and told and retold, like a fish story that grows over time. Typically, that’s what happens with legends. They take decades and even centuries to evolve, even a millennium. For example, the legends about Buddha are all more than 500 years after his life. The same is true of Plato, Alexander the Great, and others. But when it comes to Jesus, you don’t have a millennium. In fact, you don’t even have decades. You don’t have enough time for a legend to develop.

The first person to write about Jesus is the apostle Paul. Paul is writing two decades after Jesus lived. He is writing when people still are alive and who remember Jesus. So, there are real, historical figures involved, such as Caiaphas the high priest, and Joseph of Arimathea, who was a member of the Sanhedrin. These and others are people who lived and were contemporary with people who were still alive when Paul wrote. The question then becomes: How could you have a legend evolve about a man if He’s just a normal carpenter, and in just 10-15 years he is now the “Son of God?” How do you explain that… when his brother James is still alive? In fact, how do you explain it when you have people laying down their lives for this story? (See Lord or Legend?, 43)

Boyd and Eddy contend that the legend-hypothesis does not work because you don’t have enough time for Jesus to become "legendary."

Reason #3 – You also have the wrong culture.

Boyd and Eddy say that, when it comes to being receptive to legends, not all cultures are equal. For example our culture, on the whole, is quite resistant to legends. Most people don’t believe most of the legends that go around. Other cultures are more receptive to legends. First-century Judaism, however, was resistant to legends. They had the Torah. It was the pagans who told the stories and the legends.

Usually, when legends evolve, there’s a sociological need that’s being met. Legends evolve to support traditional beliefs. The legend reinforces what they already believe. The story of Jesus doesn’t fit any of the cultural beliefs very well. In fact, Jesus flies in the face of established beliefs in first-century Judaism. He is conflicting with many of these beliefs. For example, the Jews believed God was God and humans were humans, and never the twain shall meet. The idea that God would become man is off-the-charts blasphemous. This, claim Boyd and Eddy, is not the stuff of “legends.”

Legends confirm traditional beliefs; they do not confront traditional beliefs. The Jews believed in military Messiah. Instead, Jesus gets crucified. It would be hard to make a story more implausible than this. The Jesus story is not about Jewish “heroes.” In fact, the disciples look positively ignorant.

In this regard C.S. Lewis, whose area of scholarship was mythology, said, basically (to paraphrase): “I know mythology. If there’s one thing the 4 Gospels are not, it’s mythology.” So, it seems that the legendary hypothesis does not work for a number of reasons.

N.T. Wright comments, in depth, on the “dying and rising God” myth. It’s false. Here’s why. But first note: If you want to read much more see N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, Ch. 2, “Shadows, Souls, and Where They Go: Life Beyond Death in Ancient Paganism.” Wright combines excellent scholarship with clear writing to show that the idea that, e.g., Osiris, Mithras, and Dionysus et. al. “were [mythically] resurrected” is false because a misunderstanding of the meaning of ‘resurrection.’ In the ancient world in which Judeo-Christianity was situated “’resurrection’ was not an option.” (Wright, 60)

“Resurrection,” in the Judeo-Christian sense, means: “a new embodied life which would follow whatever ‘life after death’ might be.” (Wright, 83) The Greco-Roman world assumed that such a thing was impossible.

The Isis, Osiris, and Dionysus myths are affiliated with fertility rites and “productivity of the soil.” (Ib., 80) These gods “died and rose” every year. “The new life they might thereby experience was not a return to the life of the present world.” Nobody actually expected the mummies to get up, walk about and resume normal living: nobody in that world would have wanted such a thing, either.” (Ib., 80-81)

“When the Christians spoke of the resurrection of Jesus they did not suppose it was something that happened every year, with the sowing of seed and the harvesting of crops. They could use the image of sowing and harvesting to talk about it; they could celebrate Jesus’ death by breaking bread; but to confuse this with the world of the dying and rising gods would be a serious mistake… When Paul preached in Athens, nobody said, ‘Ah, yes, a new version of Osiris and such like. The Homeric assumption remained in force. Whatever the gods – or the crops – might do, humans did not rise again from the dead.” (Ib., 81)

The two greatest influences on the Greco-Roman worldview were Plato and Homer. For Plato ‘resurrection’ was a detestable thought; for Homer an impossible thing. The Christian idea of resurrection is antithetical to Platonic thinking because the human body, for Plato, is a “prison” and no one would want to inhabit it again after death. For Homer the dead are “shades,” “ghosts,” “phantoms.” “They are in no way fully human beings, though they may look like them; the appearance is deceptive, since one cannot grasp them physically.” (Ib., 43)

The Egyptian Osiris myth has no concept of “resurrection” in it as Christians understood it. Egyptian mummification assumes the person is “still ‘alive’ in some bodily sense, despite appearances.” “’Resurrection’ is an inappropriate word for Egyptian belief.” (Ib., 47).

There is a lot of reasoning and many cited resources in Wright’s chapter. He concludes with three things.

1. “When the early Christians spoke of Jesus being raised from the dead, the natural meaning of that statement, throughout the ancient world, was the claim that something had happened to Jesus which had happened to nobody else. A great many things supposedly happened to the dead, but resurrection did not.” (Ib., 83)

2. “The early Christian belief that Jesus was in some sense divine cannot have been the cause of the belief in his resurrection…. Divinization did not require resurrection; it regularly happened without it. It involved the soul, not the body.” (Ib.)

3. The ancient non-Judeo-Christian world took the Judeo-Christian term ‘resurrection,’ which referred to something hardly anyone believed in, “and used it to denote something a great many people believed in”; viz., non-bodily life after death.

Wright writes: This “was a variation that attempted to retain Christian language about Jesus, and about the future destiny of Christians, whole filling it with non-Christian, and for that matter non-Jewish, content. If this mutation had been the norm, and belief in bodily resurrection the odd variant, why would anyone have invented the latter? And why would not Celsus have pointed this all out?” (Ib., 84)

Did Jesus of Nazareth actually exist? Craig Evans writes: "No serious historian of any religious or nonreligious stripe doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea and Samaria. Though this may be common knowledge among scholars, the public may well not be aware of this." (Craig Evans and N.T. Wright, Jesus, The Final Days: What Really Happened, 3)

Finally, a truly thorough presentation of the historicity of the Gospel accounts must include Richard Bauckham's masterpiece Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels and Eyewitness Testimony, which argues that "the Gospels embody eyewitness testimony." (114)

A Month of Hearing God: Day 26 - Love God With All Your Being


Lake Erie shoreline

Our primary goal in life is not to hear God speak to us, but to be in a loving relationship with him and our brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God. Only if we are maturing people in a loving relationship with God and others will we hear him correctly. How weird it would be to want to hear God speak to me while not wanting to be in relationship with him, or in community with God's people. That would be using God for our own selves, which would be futility, since God will not be used by anyone.

Dallas Willard writes:

"Only our communion with God provides the appropriate context for communications between us and him. And within those communications, guidance will be given in a manner suitable to our particular lives and circumstances. It will fit into our life together with God in his earthly and heavenly family. Again, this is our first preliminary insight to help us in our learning to discern God’s voice." (Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, p. 42)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Jesus Died on a Cross

Jerusalem - some think this is Golgotha


Jesus died on a cross. He died as he lived; viz., below the bottom rung of the honor-shame ladder. Jesus, the Supreme Somebody, was viewed as a nobody, and killed as a nothing.

"Jesus was executed in the manner regularly reserved for insurrectionists."
- N.T.Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 148
God identified with the abandoned and godforsaken because Jesus the Son was executed in a manner regularly reserved for such people. The Word became expendable flesh and died as one of us. Tim Keller writes:
"Christianity alone among the world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment. On the cross, he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceeds ours. In his death, God suffers in love, identifying with the abandoned and godforsaken." (Keller, The Reason for God, 29-30)



The crucified Jesus, wrote philosopher Marilyn McCord Adams, is the horror-bearer. (Adams, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God)
  On a cross, God suffered. Can God suffer? The brilliant theistic philosopher Alvin Plantinga writes:
"As the Christian sees things, God does not stand idly by, cooly observing the suffering of His creatures. He enters into and shares our suffering. He endures the anguish of seeing his son, the second person of the Trinity, consigned to the bitterly cruel and shameful death of the cross. Some theologians claim that God cannot suffer. I believe they are wrong. God’s capacity for suffering, I believe, is proportional to his greatness; it exceeds our capacity for suffering in the same measure as his capacity for knowledge exceeds ours. Christ was prepared to endure the agonies of hell itself; and God, the Lord of the universe, was prepared to endure the suffering consequent upon his son’s humiliation and death. He was prepared to accept this suffering in order to overcome sin, and death, and the evils that afflict our world, and to confer on us a life more glorious than we can imagine." (Alvin Plantinga, "Self-Profile," in Alvin Plantinga, ed. James E. Tomberlin and Peter Van Inwagen, Profiles, vol. 5, 36)

He bore our scandal.

And by his stripes we are healed.





Praying Is Gaining Access to the Power of God

Lake Michigan Sunset


(For my new friends in the Illini Chinese Christian Fellowship.)



I meet many people, including pastors and Christian leaders, who struggle to find time to pray. My seminary teaching tells me that 80% of North American and European pastors don't have much of a prayer life.[1] Why not? I think the reasons for this are:

  • They don't know what prayer is. Or...
  • They know what prayer is but do not really believe it. Or…
  • Their material prosperity allows “no time to pray” and creates the illusion of not needing to pray. Or…
  • Their lives have become so cluttered with many things to “do” that they have little time for just “being” with God.

If prayer is what it claims to be, then someone who truly believed in prayer would pray. Why? Because praying is talking with God. God and I are to be doing things together.

God and I, dialoguing!!![2] Are you kidding me?! If this is real, only a fool would not pray. If this is not real, then you won’t see me praying, even in a foxhole.

Dallas Willard writes: "Prayer is God's arrangement for a safe power sharing with us in his intention to bless the world through us”[3] In praying, I interact with God. God shares power with me. Pause at the enormity of this. Who in their right mind would not have time for this?

As I respond to prayer, God empowers me with his power to bless the world. That would be cool and helpful, if only it was true.

Sometimes I read things like this and feel guilty. OK. But guilt feelings mean nothing if action does not follow. Where there is unbelief, there is no action. Guilt without action is equivalent to confession without repentance.

The sign that I believe in prayer is that I pray, a lot. What I need is belief. Belief must be cultivated in me. God will not simply download belief into me. The way to increase in belief is to choose a life of praying.

I learn prayer by praying. I keep praying, and discover unbelief morphing into belief. Then, I find time for praying.



[1] By “much of a prayer life” I mean the kind of praying life Jesus had, who, as was his custom, went out in the morning to lonely places and prayed.
[2] I’ll give this three exclamation points, one for each member of the Trinity.
[3] Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.

A Month of Hearing God: Day 25 - Being Comes Before Doing


Monroe County Community College

"Hearing God only makes sense in the framework of living in the will of God." (Willard, Hearing God, K125)

For Willard "doing the will of God is a different matter than just doing what God wants us to do." (Ib.) It is about being in the will of God; or, being (living) in the heart of God. Living in the heart of God includes doing, but is in the first place about being. "Generally we are in God’s will whenever we are leading the kind of life he wants for us." (Kindle Location 135)

It is possible to do all the things that God wants us to do and still not be the kind of person God wants us to be. A religious person, for example, might do all kinds of things without having a heart of love. Willard writes: "An obsession merely with doing all God commands may be the very thing that rules out being the kind of person he wants us to be." (K136)

Love comes first, from which appropriate obedience emerges.

First, live life out of your "in Christ" status. This is the great Pauline imperative. Hearing God's voice is a byproduct of a Christ-abiding life.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Month of Hearing God - Day 24 - Our Motives Make a Difference


Detroit Institute of Arts
Our motivation for wanting to hear God speak to us can determine whether or not God will speak to us. Surely God is uninterested in simply telling us what we want to hear. Dallas Willard quotes F.B. Meyer:

“So long as there is some thought of personal advantage, some idea of acquiring the praise and commendation of men, some aim of self-aggrandizement, it will be simply impossible to find out God’s purpose concerning us.” Willard,Hearing God, p. 33).

God is not going to cooperate with this. We must therefore have a different motivation for hearing God's voice and knowing his will for us.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

N.T. Wright on the "Dying and Rising God" Myth

An atheist I was dialoguing with said to me: “I do not believe Jesus was a real person. I believe the Jesus of the Bible is a mish-mash of previous “Sons of God” or “Sun Gods” such as Osiris, Mithras or Dionysus, all were born of virgins, all were martyred. All were resurrected. It’s just a re-telling of the old tales into a new tale.” I've heard this before. What can we make of it?

It’s false. Here’s why. But first note: If you want to read much more see N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, Ch. 2, “Shadows, Souls, and Where They Go: Life Beyond Death in Ancient Paganism.” Wright combines excellent scholarship with clear writing to show that the idea that, e.g., Osiris, Mithras, and Dionysus et. al., “were [mythically] resurrected” is false because a misunderstanding of the meaning of ‘resurrection.’ In the ancient world in which Judeo-Christianity was situated “’resurrection’ was not an option.” (Wright, 60)

“Resurrection,” in the Judeo-Christian sense, means: “a new embodied life which would follow whatever ‘life after death’ might be.” (Wright, 83) The Greco-Roman world assumed that such a thing was impossible. The Isis, Osiris, and Dionysus myths are affiliated with fertility rites and “productivity of the soil.” (Ib., 80) These gods “died and rose” every year. “The new life they might thereby experience was not a return to the life of the present world.” Nobody actually expected the mummies to get up, walk about and resume normal living: nobody in that world would have wanted such a thing, either.” (Ib., 80-81)

“When the Christians spoke of the resurrection of Jesus they did not suppose it was something that happened every year, with the sowing of seed and the harvesting of crops. They could use the image of sowing and harvesting to talk about it; they could celebrate Jesus’ death by breaking bread; but to confuse this with the world of the dying and rising gods would be a serious mistake… When Paul preached in Athens, nobody said, ‘Ah, yes, a new version of Osiris and such like. The Homeric assumption remained in force. Whatever the gods – or the crops – might do, humans did not rise again from the dead.” (Ib., 81)

The two greatest influences on the Greco-Roman worldview were Plato and Homer. For Plato ‘resurrection’ was a detestable thought; for Homer an impossible thing.
The Christian idea of resurrection is antithetical to Platonic thinking because the human body, for Plato, is a “prison” and no one would want to inhabit it again after death.
For Homer the dead are “shades,” “ghosts,” “phantoms.” “They are in no way fully human beings, though they may look like them; the appearance is deceptive, since one cannot grasp them physically.” (Ib., 43)

The Egyptian Osiris myth has no concept of “resurrection” in it as Christians understood it. Egyptian mummification assumes the person is “still ‘alive’ in some bodily sense, despite appearances.” “’Resurrection’ is an inappropriate word for Egyptian belief.” (Ib., 47).
There’s a lot of reasoning and resources in Wright’s chapter. He concludes with three things.

“When the early Christians spoke of Jesus being raised from the dead, the natural meaning of that statement, throughout the ancient world, was the claim that something had happened to Jesus which had happened to nobody else. A great many things supposedly happened to the dead, but resurrection did not.” (Ib., 83)

“The early Christian belief that Jesus was in some sense divine cannot have been the cause of the belief in his resurrection…. Divinization did not require resurrection; it regularly happened without it. It involved the soul, not the body.” (Ib.)

The ancient non-Judeo-Christian world took the Judeo-Christian term ‘resurrection,’ which referred to something hardly anyone believed in, “and used it to denote something a great many people believed in”; viz., non-bodily life after death.

Wright writes: This “was a variation that attempted to retain Christian language about Jesus, and about the future destiny of Christians, whole filling it with non-Christian, and for that matter non-Jewish, content. If this mutation had been the norm, and belief in bodily resurrection the odd variant, why would anyone have invented the latter? And why would not Celsus have pointed this all out?” (Ib., 84) Good question!

My Sermon on "How to Discern the Voice of God"





My sermon "How to Discern the Voice of God" can be heard HERE.



NOTE: At the beginning of the sermon I played the animal barnyard sounds this man is making, but without showing the video.



The second time, I showed the video.



I used this to illustrate "discernment."


Study on Prayer and Connecting With Others - A Call for Participation


Craig Cruzan is a PhD student at the University of Oklahoma who is writing his doctoral dissertation on prayer and connecting with others. Craig has become familiar with my approach to spiritual formation, and is incorporating some of it into his dissertation. Craig also uses some of the things I do regarding prayer and spiritual formation in his counseling practice, and in leading small group Bible studies and discussions.

As part of his research Craig is looking for volunteers to participate in a research study titled Mindfulness and Connection. I encourage you to consider being a part of this study. This will not only help Craig, but will also be of great interest to me and my approach to prayer and spiritual formation.

The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between mindfulness, spirituality, and how we connect to others in our lives. If you agree to be in this study, you will be asked to answer simple questions concerning your thoughts about connecting to others. 

Participants who complete the full survey will be offered the opportunity to enter a drawing for one of several Amazon.com gift certificates. The only requirement for participation is that you must be at least 18 years of age.

Participating is entirely voluntary and anonymous. It will take approximately 10-15 minutes of your time. While there is no direct benefit for participants in this study, the implications for this research could help increase our understanding of psychology and may support further research into interventions for use in counseling, religious, and other settings. If you are willing to help Craig with this research, please follow the link below to answer the questions on a secure server.




Seeing Reality for What It Is - A Month of Hearing God: Day 22

Monroe County countryside

John 4:1 instructs us to "test [dokimazo] the spirits to see if they are from God."

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).
"Seeing reality for what it is - that is what we call discernment."
- Lewis Smedes

Monday, March 21, 2016

Materialism Is a Problem for Atheism

Allsaints Spitalfields clothing store - Chicago

I think atheism is forever welded to materialism. This is sad for the intellectual atheist, since this creates intractable problems caused by certain stubborn, recalcitrant facts about our world. This is not sad for the Facebook atheist, since they have little or no understanding of such things, and have become "atheists" either out of emotions (e.g., hurt by some Christians), the bandwagon effect championed by intellectually dishonest slogans (such as, "An atheist is someone who just worships one fewer God than a Christian does"), or false reasoning (e.g., unbiblical fundamentalist readings of the Bible; Dawkins' The God Delusion, and so on). So, in their ignorance, they remain happy.

I think about these kind of things, a lot. What provoked me today is that I picked up my copy of The Waning of Materialism, by University of Texas philosopher Robert Koons and Yale University professor of philosophy George Bealer.

Historically, materialism is the "reductionist position that mental properties are identical to - and in that sense are nothing but - physical properties." That is, reality is only physical, without remainder. With this historical core explained, Koons and Bealer state the variations on Core Materialism.

What especially recaptured my attention today is their long list of very well-known and esteemed philosophers who either reject materialism or have significant doubts as to its intellectual stability. Koons and Bealer received permission from each one of them (if still living) to print their names, affirming their rejection of materialism or their doubting its stability. They are, in historical order:
  • Bertrand Russell
  • Rudolph Carnap
  • Alonzo Church
  • Kurt Gödel
  • Nelson Goodman
  • Paul Grice
  • Stuart Hampshire
  • Roderick Chisholm
  • Benson Mates
  • Peter Strawson
  • Hilary Putnam (who died a week ago [3/14/16], and whom philosopher Martha Nussbaum here calls "a person of unsurpassed brilliance" and "one of the giants of our nation")
  • John Searle
  • Jerrold Katz
  • Alvin Plantinga
  • Charles Parsons
  • Jaegwon Kim
  • George Myro
  • Thomas Nagel
  • Robert Adams
  • Hugh Mellor
  • Saul Kripke
  • Eli Hirsch
  • Ernest Sosa
  • Stephen Schiffer
  • Bas van Frassen
  • John McDowell
  • Peter Unger
  • Derek Parfit
  • Crispin Wright
  • Laurence BonJour
  • Michael Jubien
  • Nancy Cartwright
  • Bob Hale
  • Kit Fine
  • Tyler Burge
  • Terence Horgan
  • Colin McGinn
  • Robert Brandom
  • Nathan Salmon
  • Joseph Levine
  • Timothy Williamson
  • Mark Johnson
  • Paul Boghossian
  • Stephen Yablo
  • Joseph Almong
  • Keith DeRose
  • Tim Crane
  • John Hawthorne
  • Richard Heck
  • David Chalmers
Koons and Blealer write: "An examination of the major philosophers active in this period reveals that a majority, or something approaching a majority, either rejected materialism or had serious and specific doubts about its ultimate viability... Materialism has plainly not achieved hegemony when it comes to philosophers of this high caliber." (Op. cit., ix-x.)

Three Factors for Distinguishing the Voice of God - A Month of Hearing God - Day 21

Downtown Monroe

I hear Linda's voice, and she hears mine, because we have spent countless hours over 42+ years of pre-marriage and marriage with one another. Only God knows my heart perfectly; Linda comes in second place.

To "hear" someone is more than being within audible range of their voice. Jesus once said that those who have ears, hear. By this he distinguished between mere physical hearing and true listening accompanied by understanding.

Today I expect to hear God speak to me. My understanding is that hearing God is normal for a Jesus-follower. If you are one of Jesus' "sheep," then you hear his voice.

Richard Foster writes: "Jesus made it clear that his sheep can hear and know his voice (Jn 10:11-15). The real question for us is, how? How do we come to discern the living voice of God? The answer is deceptively simple. We learn to discern the voice of God by experience." (Richard J. Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, Kindle Locations 548-549)

When it comes to hearing God there is no substitute for much time spent in God's presence.

What is needed to hear God's voice is: to be in relationship with God. To be "acquainted" with God. We then discover that "certain factors distinguish the voice of God, just as any human voice can be distinguished from another." (Foster, quoting Dallas Willard, in Ib., K 552) Dallas Willard cites three such factors.

1. The quality of the voice of God

Willard writes: "The quality of God's voice is more a matter of weight or impact an impression makes on our consciousness. A certain steady and calm force with which communications from God impact our soul, our innermost being, incline us toward assent and even toward compliance." (Ib., K 554-555)

There is a sense of real authority, a weightiness, in the voice of God.

I have found that spending time with God, day after day after day, month after month, year after year, has brought an increase in the ability to discern the quality of God's voice.

For this reason (and others) I send my students out to pray, an hour a day, day after day after day. As they do this the voice of God will become more recognizable to them.

2. The spirit of the voice of God

This spirit, says Willard, "is a spirit of exalted peacefulness and confidence, of joy, of sweet reasonableness and of goodwill. It is, in short, the spirit of Jesus." (Ib., K 557-558)

James 3:17 puts it this way: "the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."

3. The content of the voice of God

Willard writes: "The content of a word that is truly from God will always conform to and be consistent with the truths about God's nature and kingdom that are made clear in the Bible." (Ib., K 559-561)

God will never lead us contrary to what he has said or done in the past. Therefore understand the activity and voice of God in the past so as to be able to better hear his voice in the present. Practically, this means reading and meditating on Scripture during your alone times with God in prayer.

Today...

Abide in Christ
Saturate in Scripture
Listen for God's voice
Obey when he leads

Write down what God tells you in your journal. Your journal is a record of the acts of God and the voice of God in your life.