Monday, February 27, 2017

2,000 Year Old Judean Palm Tree Seed Sprouts

judean palm photo

Thank you, M.M., for sending this very cool article - "Extinct Tree Grows Anew From Ancient Jar of Seeds Unearthed by Archaeologists."

From the article:

"During excavations at the site of Herod the Great's palace in Israel in the early 1960's, archeologists unearthed a small stockpile of seeds stowed in a clay jar dating back 2,000 years. For the next four decades, the ancient seeds were kept in a drawer at Tel Aviv's Bar-Ilan University. But then, in 2005, botanical researcher Elaine Solowey decided to plant one and see what, if anything, would sprout.
"I assumed the food in the seed would be no good after all that time. How could it be?" said Solowey. She was soon proven wrong.
Amazingly, the multi-millennial seed did indeed sprout -- producing a sapling no one had seen in centuries, becoming the oldest known tree seed to germinate."

Love Goes Beyond What People Can Hear

Kathy and Linda, in Cancun

Sometimes, after I give a sermon, someone comes to me and tells me how much they loved something I said. And this "something" was not even what I was talking about. It may have been an incidental point, or an attempted joke. But it was not the meat of the sermon.

I spend ten to twenty hours a week on every sermon I give. I find the beef and marinate in it. On Sunday morning, I serve it up. Are people listening? Some are. Some are not. Some are texting people, probably not about how much spiritual food is being dished out. Some minds are elsewhere. Some are battling sleep. Some have lost that battle. For the most part, none of this bothers me much. I am called by God to do something, and I am going to do it to the best of my ability.

Maybe what I say with my words is not as important as what I say with my life? Maybe how I love others and am hopefully kind to them is what leaves the greater impact? Maybe how I help them in their time of need, how I pray for them before the surgery, and how I am with them in their grief - maybe that is what leaves the mark that lasts? And doing all this, not in the vain quest to leave some personal legacy, but because I love them?

Dallas Willard seems to think so. He writes:

"The people to whom we minister and speak will not recall 99 percent of what we say to them. But they will never forget the kind of persons we are. This is certainly true of influential ministers in my own past. The quality of our souls will indelibly touch others for good or for ill. So we must never forget that the most important thing happening at any moment, in the midst of all our ministerial duties, is the kind of person we are becoming." (Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship, Kindle Locations 1833-1835)

Some of my people write down things I say in my sermons. They tell me about it, and say God spoke to them through me. That is so encouraging! But people are watching us before they are listening to us. Even if they do not hear all that we say, our love for them can go beyond what they can hear.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Rock So Heavy Even God Can't Lift It? (Tales of Facebook Nonsense Questions)

I took this photo of a bald eagle near my house.

(Because I'm explaining logical incoherence to my philosophy of religion students.)

Occasionally a Facebook atheist asks me this: "If God is all-powerful, can God then make a rock so heavy even he can't lift?" This question is supposed to throw theists into fear and loathing. But it doesn't, since it's a nonsense question, equivalent to wondering if square circles exist. Instead, the Facebook atheist should be filled with cognitive self-loathing.

Yale University philosopher Greg Ganssle writes:

"A physical object that is so big that an all-powerful being cannot move it is a self-contradiction. There cannot be such a thing. It is like a square circle. So God cannot make one. You see, to say that God is all-powerful does not mean that God can do any task I can name in words. It means he can do anything that is not a logical contradiction. A square circle is a logical contradiction. It is a logical impossibility. It is really not a thing at all and therefore it is not surprising that God cannot make one. It is not a real limit to God's power that he cannot perform contradictions."
- Ganssle, Thinking About God: First Steps in Philosophy, 157

Note: The question, "If God made the universe, then what made God?" suffers the same fate; viz., it is logically incoherent. If God is, by definition, self-existent (necessarily existence), then God never began to exist. Thus, to ask what made God is nonsense.)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Love, Not Fear, Should Motivate the Discussion Over Borders and Refugees (Plus, an Invitation to Study with Me)

Bolles Harbor area, Monroe

There is quite a discussion going on in America about the matter of our borders, refugees from other countries, and possible acts of terrorism. I confess to knowing next to nothing about immigration laws (I suspect most people are ignorant here as well). This is one reason why I am cautious to declare things when I have not invested in deep studies that would support my particular opinions. (This means: beyond-Facebook knowledge. But, alas, in so many things, people love sound bites more than sound reasoning.)

So, I mostly listen to other credible voices I find more knowledgeable than I. I get disciple by them. Ed Stetzer is one such voice. Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission and evangelism at Wheaton College. Here are highlights of a recent article he wrote for Christianity Today – “Dear Fellow Christians:It’s Time to Speak Up for Refugees.”

Read the whole article for more detail. What do you think? Does any of this sound like God to you? If so, what? If not, then why not, and what is the alternative?

Stetzer begins with advising us to be cautious in rushing to make judgments. That strikes me as wisdom. Listen to credible voices on all sides of an issue before evaluating. Note: understand first; evaluate only after this. 

He writes:

“It is not wrong to be wise and cautious. And part of President Trump’s plan is, I think, wise. For example, his call for safe zones in affected areas is good policy. Yet I’m grieved by other parts of the policy. You see, too much of the policy is driven by unfounded fear of refugees.”

I agree. And, by the way, fear often causes us to misunderstand and misjudge. Beware of making evaluations out of fear. The reality seems to be this: While some refugees may pose a threat to our country, the vast majority of them pose no greater threat than you or I do.

Anyone familiar with my blog, or who knows me, understands that I teach logic at our local community college. I value rational thinking. (This does not mean I always think rationally, especially when I experience fear!) Rational therapy sometimes conquers fear.

Some people, e.g., are afraid of flying. I have compassion towards them, since I have my fears, too. Soon Linda and I will be getting on another plane, and flying somewhere. As we do this, I have often used inductive reasoning to dispel possible fear. It goes like this: the odds of this plane falling out of the sky are far, far, FAR less than the odds of my getting into an auto accident. I never leave my house with the fear that I might get into an auto accident. That realization, when understood and acknowledged, dispels any fear about flying I might have. I don't expect this kind of rational therapy will help everyone. But it still makes logical sense. The probability of the plane crashing is micro-minimal.

In the same way Stetzer writes:

“There is a 1 in 3.64 billion per year chance that you will be killed by a refugee-turned-terrorist in a given year. If those odds concern you, please do not get in a bathtub, car, or even go outside. And, for contrast, there were 762 tragic murders in Chicago alone last year comparted to 0 people who were killed last year (or ever since the mid-70s) by a refugee-perpetrated terrorist attack.”

I remember watching the horror of 9-1-1 unfold on TV before my eyes. I remember when all flights were cancelled, and the airspace over the United States was a forbidden zone. I remember the heroes on the plane who overwhelmed the terrorists, causing it to crash in a field in Pennsylvania. I heard the voice recording of Todd Beamer saying, "Let's roll!" I understood that these horrific events were perpetrated by certain illegal aliens who got through our security undetected.

I am thankful that tomorrow at the airport I will experience TSA and their screening efforts. I want us to have these protective measures. Nevertheless, while there have been significant tragedies, I do not walk out of my house with a fear that this could happen to me. I can accept that it could. This acceptance is just not accompanied by the emotion of fear. 

Besides that, those of us who are followers of Jesus, and look to the Bible as our Great Narrative, know that as we abide in Christ, as we dwell in God's fortress, fear dissipates. Especially irrational fears (which, again, I have experienced).

As I recently wrote, Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones into places where things are uncertain and unknown, at least to us. This is called living by faith. It is by faith that we now understand ourselves as not truly belonging, essentially, to any earthly nation or race. Now, we are a "chosen race." (1 Peter 2:9) We are called to love one another, even our enemies (which the vast majority of refugees are not).

Stetzer writes: 

“At the core of who we are as followers of Christ is a commitment to care for the vulnerable, the marginalized, the abused, the wanderer. And fear cannot replace that core—as a matter of fact, we are the ones who proclaim that we have hope rather than fear.”
America is a nation of refugees. Christianity is this, multiplied by infinity. 

Stetzer's main point is that a Christian response to the current discussion on borders and immigration should be motivated by love, not fear. Surely he is correct on this, right? Love, not fear, is "the greatest." So, what shall we then do?

Stetzer concludes with this:

"There is no more critical time than now for God’s people to instead turn towards the helpless, the homeless, the broken, with open arms and hearts, ready to pour out every ounce of love we can muster.
Sure, conversations with our neighbors are sometimes hard as we express our solidarity with the refugee and those who are broken and in need of safety and dignity, but we must pursue what is right anyway. We are pro-life, but we must remember all that entails, from conception to death and each moment in between.

I am pro-life—and that includes for refugees. This week, many of us will focus on the unborn, and rightly so, but I’m also here to stand up for the born, made-in-God’s-image, refugee as well.

God help us be the people He’s called us to be in this generation, in this moment.”

Especially for my Redeemer family:

I am reading an excellent book on understanding these issues - Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis. Any who want to read this and then get together to discuss - please let me know -

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What I Do When I Go Out to Pray

Image result for john piippo lake erie
One of my praying places on Lake Erie

Someone who attended one of my conferences sent me this question: "When you go out to pray, what steps do you take?"

Here's what I do.
I go to a "place of least distraction," which is away from my home and office. One of these places for me is at our local state park on Lake Erie.

I bring three things: my Bible, my journal, and a devotional book (like a Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, or Eugene Peterson book). I often bring a cup of coffee with me.

I find a bench facing the lake. I sit. At this point I am almost always focused on God. I have done this for so many years that I am filled with expectation.

Currently I am slowly, meditatively, reading through Psalms and Proverbs.

As I read, it is common for God to speak to me, either mediately through the Scriptures, through the creation, or immediately. When this happens, I write it down.

If my mind wanders, I note where it wanders to. When it wanders it is always to a burden. Sometimes the burden is from God, and I pray about this (e.g., I feel burdened by what a friend is going through). Otherwise, following 1 Peter 5:7, I burden-cast.

When I am deburdened and detoxified (confession of any sins), hearing God happens more often. I may at that time read some of the devotional book I brought. Usually, I get only a few pages (if that far) when I feel God is again speaking to me. At that point I write in my journal what I feel God is saying.

All this is my usual experience. It does happen, occasionally, that I hear little or nothing. At other times I cannot write the thoughts fast enough.

I feel no pressure to make something happen. I do not evaluate my time with God quantitatively. It is always productive, even if I see no produce.

Almost always (99%) I am refreshed, renewed, healed, directed, corrected, at peace, with great thanksgiving.

My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (June 2017)

and How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation) (June 2018).

Out of the Comfort Zone and Into the Fire

Downtown Monroe

On occasion I hear someone speak about their "comfort zone." Like: "Sorry, but what God wants me to do is out of my comfort zone."

The comfort zone is the environment where they feel safe. This is the place where they are not, for the most part, uncomfortable. This is a kind of self-utilitarian approach to life; viz., do what gives me the most comfort most of the time, and the least pain most of the time.

I think I understand this. It's the American 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. It has nothing to do with God's plans and purposes. (See Happiness Industry - the "comfort zone" is rooted in the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham.) Yes, we find great promises of peace and rest throughout the Scriptures. No, 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. "Faith" and "comfort zone" do not overlap. We do not read the book of Hebrews saying, By faith Abraham stayed in his comfort zone.

If we stay in our comfort zones, it will be impossible to please God. Faith entails going into places and situations and the lives of people where, to be honest, we would rather not go. (See here, e.g.) Faith moves from comfort to discomfort. That is its nature.

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

As Jesus died on the cross he was bleeding in the Zone of Universal Discomfort, for you and I. He was not there to furnish our man-caves with decorative crosses. He calls us to a life of faith that is accomplished by cross-bearing, within the enemy territory of this world's present darkness. We move out of the comfort zone and into the fire.

In Revelation 14:4 we read this about the martyrs who refused to worship the beast: They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. It was uncomfortable. Their suffering was redemptive. 

God ties a belt around us and leads us in places we would rather not go. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Spiritual Transformation: The Dialectical Movement from Solitude to Community and Back Again

Mugs and pots, by artist Gary Wilson

My method in teaching spiritual formation and transformation is this: foster a dialectical movement from individuality (solitude) to community and back again, and again, with the forward thrust being spiritual and corporate transformation. As individuals are transformed, so is the community; as the community experiences transformation, so are (inexorably) its individual members.

My focus is on the deep ontological realities lying in the human heart, individually and corporately. (Henri Nouwen called them "movements of the Spirit.") For example, Trust vs. Control. This focus is why, I believe, I have been invited to teach spiritual formation and transformation in a variety of cultural contexts. Significant yet superficial differences disappear as we move into the deep waters of the human heart. (Proverbs 20:5) The deeper we go inside persons, the more we are all the same.

Individual God-encounters are needed (e.g., Jesus regularly went alone to pray), and corporate sharing (to include the kinds of transactions that occur in authentic community) is needed. Both individuality and community are required for there to be formation and transformation. The Christian who is isolated from community will not be transformed into Christlikeness; the Christian who fails to meet alone with God will suffer the same fate.

Ruth Haley Barton writes about the power of community:

"Spiritual transformation takes place incrementally over time with others in the context of disciplines and practices that open us to God. In general, while we are still on this earth, our transformation will happen by degrees (2 Corinthians 3: 18), and we need each other in order to grow (1 Corinthians 12)." (Barton, Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, Kindle Locations 113-118)

My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (June 2017)

and How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation) (June 2018).

Monday, February 20, 2017

Knowing More About Honor and Shame Increases Biblical and Cultural Understanding

Image result for john piippo honor shame

For years I have drawn on insights I gained from Bruce Malina's writings on honor/shame cultures. Understanding honor/shame hierarchization helps to understand the Bible's message of the cross of Christ, as well as understanding our own culture.

Tonight I discovered a conference coming to Wheaton College - "Honor, Shame, and the Gospel." This is encouraging to me.

Through this website I found the link to Wow - what a great resource!

For example, a complete bibliography on honor/shame studies is here

The site contains a number of articles, resources, book reviews, etc.  See, e.g., how Western culture is becoming more shame-based.

My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.
I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (June 2017)and How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation) (June 2018).

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Who I Am In Christ

For my Redeemer family.

There was a time in my life when I carried this with me and meditated on what Scripture says about my new identity as a Jesus-follower.

Click on the verse and you'll be taken to Bible Gateway.

I am accepted

I am God's child.
As a disciple, I am a friend of Jesus Christ.
I have been justified.
I am united with the Lord, and I am one with Him in spirit.
I have been bought with a price and I belong to God.
I am a member of Christ's body.
I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child.
I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins.
I am complete in Christ.
I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ.

I am secure...
I am free from condemnation.
I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances.
I am free from any condemnation brought against me and I cannot be separated from the love of God.
I have been established, anointed and sealed by God.
I am hidden with Christ in God.
I am confident that God will complete the good work He started in me.
I am a citizen of heaven.
I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind.
I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me.
I am significant...
I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life.
I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit.
I am God's temple.
I am a minister of reconciliation for God.
I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm.
I am God's workmanship.
I may approach God with freedom and confidence.
I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me

God's Solution to Our Love Problem Is Not Marriage, But Himself

When I was in elementary school, way back in the Medieval period of human history when the only texting we did was with a book, we used to write Valentine's cards for every kid in class. We made a Valentine box and put our name on it. When the time came, we all took our cards and placed them in everyone's boxes. 

When we got home we would open the cards and read all the notes of love, plus other notes that were not loving, or notes that contained obscure messages that needed to be decoded. That, for me, was a long time ago.

This past week Linda and went out for dinner and exchanged love-cards. We spoke words of love to each other. As we do this, we often think of how hard Valentine's Day is for some people we know. Like people with struggling marriages where love does not exist, and where no cards with loving words will be exchanged. Like people who long to find someone to spend their life with, but as of yet no one is there. Like some Jesus-followers who "missionary date"; i.e., they fall in love with some non-Jesus-follower in hopes of leading them to Jesus, all out of their own need for love. Most of these situations end in disaster. In the search for love, to love and be loved, many people settle for less than love, or non-love.

For the Jesus-follower stuck in a divided-Kingdom marriage, their moral stand against divorce makes them feel condemned to the painful situation. Make no mistake: it's far, far better to be unmarried and passionate about Jesus, then to be passionate about Jesus and married to someone who doesn't feel the same. In fact, if you are reading this and are not married, rejoice that you have not settled for a divided-Kingdom marriage!

What about love? To love, and to be loved? Here is the good news. Real, deep love is there for the taking. God, the author and source of love, loves you. And desires to be loved back by you. 

The Father loves you! It's the Father's love that is the substantial reality behind all the worldly imitations and desires. No significant other can come close to this. God, the Maker of your soul, is the one true Soul Mate. 

I am so thankful I experienced this Great Love in my first year as a Jesus-follower. I chose to take a year off from relationships with the opposite sex for the sake of knowing God. That year of loving God, and being-loved by God, shaped all the relationships I was to have in the future.

If any marriage is excellent it is because both the husband and wife love, in the first place, God. No marriage can give what only God can give. 

The person who says to someone, "I cannot live without you," puts too much weight on that person. Beware of someone who believes this, since they don't have a life outside of you. 

I don't mean to be insensitive here. If something were to happen to Linda I'll need my friends to scrape me off the floor, and speak into my life. Yet both Linda and I loved God first before we loved each other. 

That still strikes me as the healthiest way to enter into a marriage. Neither of us can live without the Father's love. Two Christians in a marriage, minus the Father's love, equals disaster.

It is significant that, in eternity, there will be no marriages. Love, however, will be there, and it will be unlike anything we could have imagined. Therefore, it is not necessary to be married to experience real love. Being married is not God's solution to the love problem. Heaven will be, centrally, a being-loved-and-loving affair with our Creator and Savior. Apply Christian Trinitarian theism to this and it gets exciting. We will dwell with the Three-Personed God, forever.

Accept this Valentine from the heart of your Maker, to you: 

"_________, I love you!"

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Supremacy of Wisdom and the Need for the Elderly

Image result for john piippo wisdom
Monroe County

When you slowly meditate through the biblical book of Proverbs, one thing stands out: nothing is more valuable in life than the acquisition of wisdom. This is an analytic truth, as seen on Proverbs 4:7:

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Wisdom is more valuable than money or material things. It is greater than any possible accomplishments and awards. The pursuit of wisdom is a far better investment than going after happiness.

When I read the word "wisdom," I think of things like this.

Wisdom is something deep. In the soul. Wisdom is something to be "fathomed." Fools run a mile wide and an inch deep. The wise take their inch and dig a mile down.

Wisdom comes to the elderly, if they invest a lifetime in its acquisition. A child cannot be wise. A child may say something that is wise, but it does not come out of a soul that runs deep. You can be young and relatively smart, but you cannot be young and wise.

Old people are not necessarily wise. It all depends on what they went after in life. A person can be old and a total fool. Thus, a long life (the longer the wiser) is necessary but not sufficient when it come to gaining wisdom. Their life must be spent in a certain way. It must be spent on the things necessary for gaining wisdom.

This is why the church needs "elders." Old people, who have spent a lifetime loving God, worshiping God, desiring God, serving God, praying, meditating on Scripture, and active in community. These are people stripped of performance-ability and steeped in understanding-ability. They have knowledge from experience, not from books. These are the most valuable people in the Church, otherwise the ship of fools will run aground.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Advertising Without Influence Is Hype (The Presence-Driven Church)

Somewhere in Monroe

In church history we read that, when God showed up in a church, the word got out and sometimes "spread like fire." This tells me that God's presence is more about influence than it is about advertising. Advertising without influence is hype. And, you don't have to advertise a fire.

Howard Thurman said that everything is available in God’s presence. I agree. A presence-driven life does not measure itself quantitatively. The result of presence-driven ministry is influence. Where God’s presence is, there is influence, almost by definition.

Reading Eugene Peterson's The Pastor: A Memoir solidified an idea I have had for many years, which is: as a pastor and Jesus-follower, I am to desire influence, rather than size. It is not important how big a church is (in terms of attendees, square footage, and budget). It is important how influential a church is. Influence, not size, is what really matters. Thus, the Real Church makes disciples, rather than spending resources to attract more people.
By "influence," I mean the kind of things Jesus talked about when he used metaphors like "salt" and "yeast." "You are the salt of the earth," Jesus said.
 A bit of salt can flavor a bite of food.

What's needed are salty Jesus-followers. Salt influences food, rather than being influenced by it. Salt is active, not passive. By analogy, may your life influence the world, rather than being influenced by it.
Non-salty "Christians" are, in Jesus' eyes, "no longer good for anything, except to be thrown our and trampled underfoot." (Matthew 5:13)
How many people are in your church? Wrong question! Are your people influencing culture? That's what is important. You don't have to be large or famous to do this.
Focus on influence. Influence is found in God's experienced presence. When people are touched by God you won't have to advertise it, because you don't have to advertise a fire. Indeed, you should not advertise it (because it feels like using people to advance your own kingdom).
For example: the Underground Church in China. No advertising, obviously. It's growing like wildfire. It refuses to bow before the Chinese government's restrictions and become "official churches" of the state.
Perhaps, in America, we need the New Underground Church, one that refuses to comply with secular marketing strategies and their quantitative promises.

My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (June 2017)and How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation) (June 2018).