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."

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 -

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

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).

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Pastors - Preparing Your People for "The Shack"

I loved the book The Shack.

I hope the movie lives up to my experience of the book.

The best book to read to understand The Shack is by theologian Roger Olsen, Finding God in the Shack: Seeking Truth in a Story of Evil and Redemption. I'll use Olson's book to help my people find their way through the movie.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Move Towards, Not Away From, Hurting People

Old fire truck, Monroe County

Many years ago I had a friend who was a pastor ("Bill" - not his real name). Linda and I loved him and his wife ("Jane"). How sad and hard it was for us when she developed cancer. She had a long hospitalization and eventually died.

One day when I went to see her I asked where Bill was. She said, "It's difficult for Bill to see me like this. It's hard on him. He comes, but not often."

When I left the hospital that day I drove to Bill's church to see him. He was in his office. We talked. He was suffering. He hated to see Jane like this. And, there was so much church work that needed to be done. I could only imagine what this would be like if I were in his shoes and Linda was dying.

"Bill," I said, "I know this is hard. But Jane needs you. Let go of the church work. Go to the hospital to be with her. Your people will understand."

Bill went to see Jane that day. He spent most of his time with her until she died.

It is hard to be with suffering people. Suffering people need others to be with them. Jesus moved towards the hurting, not away from them. 

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Decolonization and the Language of the Presence-Driven Church

Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya

I was flying from Detroit to Nairobi, Kenya, to preach in a church and lead a conference for pastors from Kenya and Uganda. I like to read as much as I can about the culture I’m going to, so I’d bought a few books to read on the plane. One was Decolonizing the Mind, by radical Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.

His challenge to African peoples is to abandon the languages of the cultures that colonized them, and return to full adoption of their native dialects. This is because: in a language there is an embodied worldview.

From my linguistic studies background,
[1] Wa Thiong'o's ideas reconnected me with "the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis," which is: a worldview colonizes every language. Wa Thiong'o is indebted to linguists Edmund Sapir and Benjamin Whorf.

Samuel Gyasi Obeng
[2] connects Whorfian linguistics to Wa Thiong'o's African appeal. Obeng writes: "According to Whorf, the structure of human language influences the manner in which human beings understand reality and behave with respect to it."[3]

Obeng cites
Abiola Irele's argument in favor of returning to African languages. Irele writes:

"For even if it is true that all languages are systems whose reference to reality is arbitrary, there is a naturalization of particular languages to specific environments which plays an important role in the process by which they not only come to signify but to achieve a correspondence with the total configuration of the perceived and experienced reality within the environment."

In a lecture at the University of Dar es Salaam, Wa Thiong'o said that "African leaders and scholars have become captives of their foreign languages, and so maintain colonial ideals to the detriment of fellow citizens."

The African continent, says Thiong’o, continues to suffer from "language slavery." His proposal is that “our local universities should translate the knowledge from foreign languages to local dialects for the benefits of all communities."

How deep, how radical (latin radix; "root"), does this go? Wa Thiong'o "warned Africans against wasting their time and skills trying to change their accents to English; instead, they should spend their time and skills to protect African resources and language."[7]

My thesis is that: 1) language shapes reality; 2) the language we use delimits what we experience; 3) the Western Church has been colonized by the languages of entertainment, programs, “happiness,” and quantitative-numerical ideas of “success”; and thus 4) the Presence-Driven Church decolonizes the culture; which leads to 5) increase in experiential knowledge of the presence of God.

In this way we of the Church will no longer waste our time emulating American culture, and will reintroduce and release Emmanuel, God-with us, as experienced reality.

I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

In Ch. 5 I will develop points 1-5, in detail.

[1] My doctoral dissertation at Northwestern University was on metaphor theory (1986).
[2] African Studies and Linguistics, University of Indiana
[4] In Ib.
[5] “Foreign Tongues: Today’s Slave Drivers,” 11/23/13
[6] Ib.
[7] Ib.