Friday, March 31, 2017

"Facing Our Fears, Embracing the Father" - Sunday night, April 2, at Redeemer

Image result for linda piippoThis Sunday night, April 2, 6 PM.

Linda Piippo speaks on "Facing Our Fears, Embracing the Father."

We begin with worship at 6.

Everyone - men and women - are invited!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Redeemer Announcements



THIS SUNDAY AT REDEEMER: 1) I'll teach/preach again on Healing and the Atonement; 2) I'll pray for anointing and empowerment for people to pray for others; 3) we'll pray for people who are sick. If you have a friend who would like prayer for illness - physical or emotional - please bring them on Sunday morning - 10:30.
Sunday night, 6 PM. Linda Piippo speaks on “Facing Our Fears, Embracing the Father.” We begin with worship at 6. Everyone - men and women - are invited!

Ministry to Victims of Sex Trafficking and Exploitation: Some of our church's women are involved in a ministry that goes into strip clubs and reaches out to the women involved in this. If you are interested, please contact the office, 734-242-5277

Help us Bake Brownies for the Ann Arbor Hash Bash!  You can drop them off at the church during office hours this Friday, the 31st, or come that evening between 7-8 p.m. Please wrap the brownies individually so they can be handed out. We have nine people from Redeemer going to minister that day! Please be in prayer for us. For any questions, call Andy Griffith (734-777-3820).

Bajkiewicz Mission: Check out our activities on, Facebook/chris lori bajmission and Want to knit or crochet hats for kids in Mexico for the Bajkiewicz mission? Yarn and simple patterns are available in the office. Call for more info 242-5277.

In May we are planning to host eight of our leaders from India who have assisted Pastor Joe Atkinson in our Full Life in Christ mission there. Please pray for this. They are in the process of securing Visa’s, which is not an easy task. During the next few weeks, please pray for God’s favor with the embassy officials so they all can get Visas and are able to come!

How Do We Respond to Immigrants and Refugees? What would Jesus have us do? Pastor John will lead a book study on this issue, using the book Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis. If you are interested in being part of this please let John know. Then purchase the book and read it. John will be looking at a date when we can meet to discuss, pray, and listen to what God is saying to us.

Pastor John's study on his book Praying will meet on Saturday, April 1st, at 10 a.m. We will discuss: How solitary praying helps in the creation of authentic community; How praying is bigger than what we can think or see; How praying shapes us into overcomers; and How praying releases us from a spirit of control. All are invited!

We will have Baptisms on Palm Sunday (April 9). If God calls you to be baptized please contact Pastor John ( or Tim Curry (

Help the Royal Rangers Raise the Final $500 to Build an Extension on the Garage Visit their bake sale Sunday, April 9 right after service in the lobby.  We are hoping to get some Easter desserts and Jerry and Peggy will make their famous apple dumplings

Young adults meet weekly on Wednesday at 7pm in the family room (old RMS room). Our goal is to grow into adults whose laser-focused lives are Christ. We are using the Psalms to teach us to pray. Adults who have graduated high school (or are in the 13th year of middle college) and older are welcome. Questions? Contact Tim Curry (

Men's Breakfast, Sat. April 29th  8-9:15am. Fellowship Hall. Coffee will be ready and doors open at 7:30 a.m. Several leaders feel God is calling us to share this meal together. So, we will do breakfast and trust God to do more than breakfast. If you are interested in joining us, please sign up in the lobby or contact Mark Cowan (419) 344-1973. Your sons and neighbors are welcome too. Voluntary donations for the event accepted the morning of.

Green Lake! It's not too early to consider coming to our annual summer conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin. Our guest speakers are Steve and Wendy Backlund of Bethel Church in Redding, Philip Lee of His Way Out Ministries, and David Wagner. More information can be found at

Women's Cardio Drumming Exercise Class meets every Tuesday, 7-8 pm in the gym. Invite your friends! It's a blast no matter what your fitness level! You will need a 65 cm exercise ball, 18 gallon round tub (a round laundry basket will do) and a pair of drumsticks. Feel free to call Erica with questions  (440-665-9960).

What Does Jesus Think About Money?

Image result for john piippo money

One of the things God told me to do at Redeemer was develop a Jesus-literate community. So, I preached through the four Gospels, chronologically. We went verse-by-verse, and dug deeply into the context so as to understand the meaning of the text. Because, as Ben Witherington says, a text without a context is just a pretext for what you want the text to say.

Studying and meditating through the four Gospels is beautiful and powerful and troubling. In them we meet the Real Jesus. We begin to see why he is simply the greatest leader that has ever walked this planet. We see why, as C.S. Lewis wrote, Jesus is far more than a great moral teacher. We see Jesus proclaiming the rule and reign of God (the "kingdom"), and demonstrating this with miracles, signs, and wonders.

One of the troubling things about Jesus is what he says about money. At this point I have met Christians who do not have ears to hear. A few go looking for a TV preacher or another church to validate their own love of money. At this point they leave Jesus.

What does Jesus think about money and possessions? If you are a follower of Jesus, then what he says about this is important to you.

You can read the four Gospels for yourself. There you will see that...

... Material things and possessions and wealth do not impress Jesus. Jesus viewed the rich and famous as spiritually bankrupt. It's near-impossible for the rich to come under the rule of God, taught Jesus. (Mark 10:23)

... Jesus has not come to make people rich. Jesus never said anything like, "Follow me, and I will make you wealthy."

... To Jesus, riches are an obstacle to entering the kingdom of heaven.

... Jesus himself had no money. Even a fox had its hole, even a bird had its nest, but Jesus didn't even have a roof over his head. (
Matthew 8:20)

...  Jesus did not come to raise money for his ministry. Jesus didn't carry cash. He didn't even carry plastic. Jesus didn't say "Send me a hundred dollars and I'll see that you get a thousand in return." Jesus was always giving away to others. Ironically, Judas carried what little money the entourage of Jesus had. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. (
John 13:29)

... Jesus did not come for the express purpose of multiplying your finances. To the contrary, Jesus said: Sell  your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. (
Luke 12:32-34)

...Jesus came to tell us what true riches are.

... Jesus did not operate according to cultural honor-shame hierarchies. Jesus climbed down the ladder, took on the form of an "expendable," and descended into greatness. This is the upside-down kingdom of God. It permeates the Gospels. For example, in Mary's song of amazement: He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:46-56)

Jesus was not self-seeking. Jesus came, not
to be served, but to serve others. (Matthew 20:28)

... Jesus told us that Money is an alternative god that many  people worship. It was Jesus who told us in Matthew 6:24 –  “You can’t serve both God and Mammon.” (‘Mammon’ is the Aramaic word for riches or wealth.)

Riches, said Jesus, put a chokehold on the kingdom of God. (
Luke 8:13-15) Riches even prevent the releasing of God's reign.

The apostle Paul followed in Jesus's footsteps when he advised Timothy:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
1 Timothy 6:10

If you really want to know about what Jesus thinks about money, then first read:

- Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.

Then read:

- Jesus and Money, by Ben Witherington

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Closing of the American University's Mind

Trinidad - view of Maracas Bay (Linda and I were there in 2015)

One idea of the "university" is that it is a place for the exploration of ideas, where contrary viewpoints are encouraged, welcomed, and discussed, civilly. I had some professors who did this, and for that, I am thankful. They could handle disagreement with grace. I learned a lot from them.

But many professors do not. In fact, the American university has become tyrannical. 

I experienced that, too, when the head of the philosophy department at Northwestern University brought me into his office, and told me that, while he liked my work, he would not support me. The reason, he said, was that I was associated with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, which functioned as Northwestern's divinity school. Garrett is United Methodist. The position of the United Methodist Church at the time was disaffirming of same-sex relationships. My philosophy professor was gay. He punished me for the sins of the UMC. 

I ended up finding two Northwestern departments that supported me in my doctoral work - Linguistics, and History and Literature of Religions. But the philosophy department, in their totalitarian righteousness, excommunicated me.  So much for philo - Sophia (the love of wisdom). (In retrospect, I probably could have sued the university for this.)

Such exorcistic behavior is normal, in the university. So says the current Chronicle of Higher Education article by Robert Boyers, "The Academy's Assault on Intellectual Diversity." 

Boyers writes of "the depth or virulence of the opposition to robust discussion within the American professoriate, where many self-described liberals continue to believe that they remain committed to "difference" and debate, even as they countenance a full-scale assault on diversity of outlook and opinion." Which means: If you don't agree with us, then you are to be loathed and despised.

Yes, loathed. The American academy is "a church held together by the hunt for heresies." Boyers writes:

"We do routinely observe that "active and inquiring intellects" are cast out of the community of the righteous by their colleagues and formally "investigated" by witch-hunting faculty committees and threatened with the loss of their jobs. One need only mention the widely debated eruptions at Oberlin College, or Northwestern University, or others, to note that this is by no means a phenomenon limited to a handful of institutions."
"Things have gotten out of hand. The desire to cleanse the campus of dissident voices has become something of a mission. Shaming, scapegoating, and periodic ritual exorcisms are a prime feature of campus life."
If a professor or student has a belief that challenges the cult, it is best if they keep their mouths shut. 
I thought university professors were open-minded people, seeking wisdom and knowledge, from wherever it comes? I thought the idea was that we were to listen to dissenting voices, perhaps learning from them, maybe even changing our beliefs on account of them?
Not really. That's a fantasy, found only in logic textbooks. Academics engage in Orwellian Groupthink as much as the common person does. Boyers writes:
"Though it must seem odd to those who spend little or no time in the academy to hear that academic intellectuals are notoriously susceptible to groupthink, there are several compelling ways to account for this. For one, as Jonathan Haidt has pointed out in The Righteous Mind (Pantheon, 2012), academics are much like other people in "trying harder to look right than to be right" when they conduct an argument. Within the confines of a community that prides itself on its disciplined commitment to a consensually agreed upon set of "enlightened" views, deviations once regarded as signs of a robustly diverse intellectual culture come more and more to seem intolerable."
Haidt has argued that professors are no more likely to think independently than a lemming. 
"High IQ people like academics "are no better than others at finding reasons on the other side." This is especially troubling — or ought to be especially troubling — in the culture of the university, where diversity of outlook and ideas, and resistance to accredited formulas, is at least theoretically central to the institutional mission.
But academics today are increasingly behaving like members of an interest group..."
And they conduct witch hunts. They abhor the deviants who dare inject contrary ideas. They shame people. 
It's scary.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

When Is a Church No Longer a Church?

Image result for lime green rambler car
My Nash Rambler looked like this (not my photo)

When I was an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University I was part of a social fraternity. One morning I left the fraternity house to go to a class on campus. I got in my lime green Nash Rambler, turned the key, and heard a strange sound come from under the hood. The sound was followed by the smell of burning rubber. I got out of the car, lifted the hood, and saw smoke coming from melted wires. My Rambler was finished.

I walked into classes that day. When I returned to the fraternity house the Rambler was gone. Some of my fraternity brothers had the car towed to the center of campus, and were charging students a dollar to hit it with a sledge hammer. When I saw my beloved car it was no longer recognizable.

When is a car no longer a car? When it loses its radio? No, even without a radio a car is still a car. When it gets repainted? When a headlight goes out? When the bumper falls off? Even with all these losses, it is still a car.

When Henry Ford made his first car, it had some essentials that cars still have, one hundred years later. Shapes, sizes, weight, materials, are different today. But the first Ford had wheels, a steering wheel, seats, and an engine. These are the essentials. The original Ford had them. So do cars today. Don't let anyone try to sell you a car if it doesn't have the essentials of the original.

There was an Original Church. Jesus is building it in the Gospels. We see it birthed in the book of Acts. The Original Church was in many ways different than churches today. The Original Church didn't have permanent buildings to meet in. Today, we do. The original church didn't have Bibles. We do. They wore different clothing than we wear. Today, many things are different than they were in the original church. But some things are not supposed to change.

When Jesus made the first church it had some essentials. Spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues and prophecy happened. People prayed for the sick with great expectancy. They experienced signs and wonders. The original church perceived itself to be in a spiritual battle against Satan and demons. Indeed, this was seen as the reason for our struggles; viz., that we battle against spiritual principalities and powers, rather than flesh and blood.

All this was empowered by the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts we see constant demonstrations of power (dunamis) and authority (exousia). Surely there was far more of this going on than what has been written down.

But now, sadly, these essentials are missing in many American churches. They are not taught, they are not experienced, they are even spoken against, and they are, to some, an embarrassment. A.W. Tozer saw this, and wrote:

"If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference." (Tozer, in Michael Brown, Authentic Fire, pp. 54-55)

If Peter and Paul and the first-century Jesus-followers saw the American Church today, they would find it unrecognizable. A "church" without miracles, signs, wonders, spiritual gifts, healings, expectation, power, and the Holy Spirit? Don't let anyone try to sell you a church if it doesn't have the essentials of the Original.

My first book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.
I'm currently writing book #2 - Leading the Presence-Driven Church (Summer 2017)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Truth Is Not Dead

In 1966 Time magazine published one of its most famous covers ever. 

Image result for time is god dead magazine cover
April 8, 1966
The answer to that question was, and is: No.

I went to the mailbox today to get the recent edition of Time, and here is the cover.
Image result for time is truth dead magazine cover

If the answer is "No," then truth is not dead.

If the answer is "Yes," then truth is not dead.

Because if the answer is "Yes," then the following statement is true: Truth is dead. But that statement cannot be true, because if it is true, then it is false. In other words, the statement Truth is dead is logically incoherent. 

Therefore, Truth is not dead

Further, "truth" is not some living thing that can die. Truth cannot die. That statement is true.

So, what about the feature article? It's written by an atheist, Michael Shermer. I've read some of Shermer's stuff. My truth antennae go up. The article is entitled, "Can Trump Handle the Truth?"

OK. Time is playing mind games. The 1966 "God Is Dead" issue was actually about whether or not there is a God. Of course, the statement God is dead is misleading, because if there is a God (I believe there is) then God could not be dead, since God necessarily exists, and a being that necessarily exists never came into being and could never go out of being. And if there is no God, then the statement is sheer nonsense, since only existing living things can die. You have to be alive, and contingently so, to die. (When Nietzsche uttered "God is dead," he was speaking figuratively to mean "I [Nietzsche] have ceased believing in the existence of God.")

Shermer's question is: Can Trump Handle the Truth? This question affirms that truth is not dead, and that there is such a thing as objective truth (true for everyone) that, presumably, Trump cannot handle. If there is no objective truth, then Shermer's question makes as much sense as Can Shermer ride a unicorn?

Truth and falsehood, admits Shermer, are binary opposites. This is exactly what I teach in my logic classes. Shermer accuses Trump of blurring the binary distinctions between truth and falsehood. Shermer states that Trump utters many untruths. The core and bulk of his article intends to substantiate the truth of this statement.

The cover of the new Time aroused the philosopher in me. I took the bait. The fact remains: Truth, like God, is Not Dead.

Healing and the Atonement - at Redeemer

Detroit River, in Wyandotte

Two weeks ago at Redeemer I preached on 1 Peter 2:24. This message was part of preaching through the letter of 1 Peter. I assumed I would just continue into chapter 3, but God had different ideas.

Stay on 1 Peter 2:24. This was very clear to me. So here we are, and here I am. At Redeemer we are now focused on Healing and the Atonement. And, our praying for the sick has ramped up. In the past two weeks we have seen some people healed of physical and emotional illness. We'll do it again tomorrow morning, and the next week, and on Palm Sunday, and on Easter Sunday, and...? Until God directs otherwise.

I confess to liking this very much. It seems that most of our people do, too.

Because one of my love languages is Study, I am engaging in Atonement studies. Periodically, usually as we near Easter week, I revisit the atoning work of Christ on the cross. My background studies include doing one of my doctoral qualifying exams on ancient Christology, especially the Christological controversies about the nature of Christ, and the eventual formation of the Creeds.

I love studying Jesus more than eating a Cadbury egg (this is saying a lot - on occasion I have studied while eating one, thereby experiencing the best of both worlds). I love knowing and experiencing his now-activity, his "with us" presence. Hopefully, this is happening in your church. That is the point of the whole thing, right?

If you want to engage in Atonement studies the best place to begin is this book - The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, by Thomas Schreiner and James Beilby. It includes Greg Boyd's cool presentation of the famous "Christus Victor" position, and theologian Bruce Reichenbach's "Healing View" of the Atonement.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Impossibility of Worship Without Presence (The Presence-Driven Church)

Lake Michigan shoreline

Worship without a sense of God’s presence is not true worship. God’s presence and worship fit together like a hand and a glove. God’s palpable presence evokes worship; worship provokes God’s people into his felt presence. God’s presence is evocative; true worship is provocative.

At times I have a sense of God’s presence, and this evokes worship in me. I may praise God, or sing of God’s greatness. At other times I may feel spiritually barren, and then a song we are singing prods me, and barrenness is replaced with fecundity.

I doubt that a person could be in God’s presence and not somehow worship him. The experience of God, with us, never gets ordinary or old. The very thought of God manifesting himself in all his omni-attributes is cognitively and emotionally overpowering. Where God is, there people will bow before him in awe and adoration.

In true worship God becomes not only the object of our adoration, but our worship leader. This is why, in true worship, we cannot program or predict how the Holy Spirit will lead. The Holy Spirit cannot be click-tracked, or timed. True worship shifts time zones, from clock time (chronos) to now-time (atemporality; kairos; God’s “time”). We become lost in the moment, in what some have called the “eternal now.”

On Sunday mornings, for example, we have some things in place: an opening worship song, we pray for our children, announcements (if any), praise & worship, preaching, then a time of ministry. But all this can change.

Recently, during the opening song, I was drawn to a person in our sanctuary. I did not know them, but sensed God's presence doing a good thing in them. I felt led to share this with them. At that point the worship meeting was changing before my eyes.

We begin with a simple, basic structure. That's OK and, I think, good. God has led us to prepare the way for his manifesting presence. But within this structure there is room for the Spirit to do his thing. And He does. Always, in our context.

In that sense we do not have an "order of service," or a "program" to be followed. The reason is, while God can and does pre-order what happens in our corporate gatherings, it is God, not me or a committee, doing the pre-ordering. We can't order or program God.

When God manifests his presence it is never to put on a show to entertain a room of consumers.  A. W. Tozer looked at “worship” in the Entertainment-Driven Church in dismay. 

He wrote:

"Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us."[1]

Tozer wrote that in 1948. What might he say today?

(This is why at Redeemer we want our worship team musicians and vocalists to, primarily, have deep, abiding spiritual lives with Christ. A musician who lacks that is doxologically worthless, an impediment to true worship.) 

[1] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Kindle Locations 46-51

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The War for the Liberation of Human Souls

My backyard, on the river

This is for the serious God-seeker, the passionate Christ-abider, the desirer of God's presence. Better is one day in God's presence than a thousand with my toys.

"Do everything you can to avoid the noise and business of the world. Keep as far away as you can from the places where they gather to cheat and insult one another, to exploit one another, to laugh at one another, or to mock one another with their false gestures of friendship. Be glad if you can keep beyond the reach of their radios. Do not bother with their unearthly songs. Do not read their advertisements."
- Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Don't despise people who are addicted to social media. Just don't get seduced and entrapped yourself. Merton continues:

"No man who seeks liberation and light in solitude, no man who seeks spiritual freedom, can afford to yield passively to all the appeals of a society of salesmen, advertisers, and consumers."

Merton wrote Seeds of Contemplation in 1949. It was revised and published as New Seeds in 1962. I envision Merton coming to life itoday, looking at the spiritual carnage lying in the wake of social media, and concluding the war for the liberation of human souls is over. Humanity lost. Lost humanity.

My book on prayer can be purchased here.

I'm currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (Summer 2017).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The American Church Has Lost Its Way

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Some New Testament scholars believe the following:

1. The American Church has severely lost its way.
2. For the Church to survive it must understand and enact the Real Gospel of Jesus.

Voices include Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, N.T. Wright, and Scot McKnight. There are others.

In addition to such scholars, there are unschooled Jesus-followers who are in some ways like the original disciples of Christ. They look at the story of Jesus and see a different reality than what is seen in the American Church.

Dallas Willard writes: "(In the American Church we have) contemporary misunderstandings that produce gospels that do not naturally produce disciples, but only consumers of religious goods and services....  (The) primary barrier to the power of Jesus’ gospel today... is a view of salvation and of grace that has no connection with discipleship and spiritual transformation. It is a view of grace and salvation that, supposedly, gets one ready to die, but leaves them unprepared to live now in the grace and power of resurrection life." (Willard, quoted in Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, p. 16).

Consumers, rather than disciples.

Conformation to American culture, rather than transformation into Christlikeness.

Human effort, rather than resurrection power.

Voices are crying in the wilderness. The consumer, market-driven, entertainment church does not hear.

"We’ve wandered from the pages of the Bible into an answer that isn’t biblical enough... I think we’ve got the gospel wrong, or at least our current understanding is only a pale reflection of the gospel of Jesus and the apostles. We need to go back to the Bible to find the original gospel."  (McKnight, Ib., pp. 23-24)

"Christian TV" and the False Gospel of Prosperity

Image result for john piippo prosperity
Worship at NightLight International, Bangkok
I don't watch "Christian" TV. Much of it is heretical. At the heart of a lot of the heresy is the "Prosperity Gospel," which says, "Give us lots of money, and God will make you rich." This ridiculousness is why Michael Brown writes:

"While I am absolutely unashamed to be called a Pentecostal-Charismatic believer, I am terribly ashamed at many things that are done in the name of the Holy Spirit today, especially by leaders on “Christian” TV. Without a doubt, if this represented the true core of the Charismatic Movement, the heart and soul of who we are, I would never want to be called a charismatic again. It would be similar to how Baptists would feel if Fred Phelps, the notorious leader of Westboro Baptist Church, was the poster boy for the Baptist Church in America." (Michael Brown, Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur's Strange Fire, p. 13)

Brown quote one of our greatest New Testament scholars, Gordon Fee, on the Prosperity Gospel. Fee writes:

"American Christianity is rapidly being infected by an insidious disease, the so called wealth and health Gospel—although it has very little of the character of Gospel in it...  The cult of prosperity thus flies full in the face of the whole New Testament. It is not biblical in any sense... besides being non-biblical, the theology that lies behind this perversion of the Gospel is sub-Christian at several crucial points. ... despite all protests to the contrary, at its base the cult of prosperity offers a man-centered, rather than a God-centered, theology."
(In Ib., p. 15) 

Monday, March 20, 2017

You Won't Remain the Same When You Abide in God's Presence

Image result for john piippo abide
Ann Arbor

A few years ago some University of Michigan film students were making a movie about our Monroe community. I was one of their interviews. One of them, Jordan, was a U-M student who had been part of Redeemer in the past, so that's how we reconnected.

Jordan asked me, "What is the main thing you see about Monroe that needs to be changed?" 

My answer was, "Me." (This is true, but not original. See G.K. Chesterton.)

I was serious about this. My ongoing transformation will set a lot of dominos falling. 

If I can change for the better, and by "better" meaning into greater Christlikeness, our community will be better off.

If I can change and be a better husband to Linda, Linda will be better off. 

If God changes me into a greater Jesus-like compassionate servant, then people in my church family will be better off. Others will benefit from what God is doing in me. 

There's an old gospel song that goes, "It's me, it's me, it's me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer" (not "It's them, it's them, it's them..."  Another worship song pleads, "change my heart O God" (not "change their hearts O God").

I can't change other people.

With God's help I can change.

To be transformed, don't focus on change, focus on God. Abide in Jesus. You cannot consistently dwell in the presence of God and remain the same.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Praying for the Sick Is One Sign of a Normal Church

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Praying for someone at Redeemer

This morning at Redeemer I gave the second of a series of messages on Healing and the Atonement. I am making the claim that healing is comprehensive, and in this way it is very Hebraic. This comprehensiveness is seen, e.g., in how Eugene Peterson translates Isaiah 53:3 in The Message:

 The fact is, it was our pains he carried—    our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.

"All the things wrong with us." The atoning sacrifice of Christ has covered all our bases. The Atonement covers sin, yes, and so much more (a lot of which is the logical outcome of our sin). This affects how "church" is supposed to happen. Since God cares for the whole person - body/soul/spirit - he gives the church spiritual gifts that edify the whole person, individually and corporately.

What should a church look like? Is there a model, a paradigm, for "church?" I believe there is, and it is seen in the book of Acts, and the letters of Paul, the book of Hebrews, etc. I think - if there has ever been a normal church - it is the early church. 

Much of the American Church seems far from this. The American Church is beset with abnormalities. My experience with many American churches feels like going to a tennis match expecting to see racquets and fuzzy yellow balls and a court bisected by a net, but instead seeing people standing around reading poetry. A Jesus-follower in the first century would go to church expecting prayers for the sick, demons being cast out, all the spiritual gifts manifesting, and maybe even a dead person brought back to life. What they might see in many American churches today bears no resemblance to that. 

Why would such things normally be expected? Because...
  • Jesus did these kind of things
  • Jesus said his followers would do these kind of things
  • The Church was birthed in these things
  • These things were understood as relation to the Atonement, in which "all the wrong things with us" were borne, by Christ, on the cross.
A Normal Church would have such things, right? If a Church does not experience miracles, signs, spiritual gifts, deliverance from demonic oppression, and wonders, then it is abnormal, in terms of the original template.

Theologian Roger Olson writes:

"Most contemporary American evangelical Christians only pay lip service to the supernatural whereas the Bible is saturated with it. To a very large extent we American evangelicals...   have absorbed the worldview of modernity by relegating the supernatural, miracles, scientifically unexplainable interventions of God, to the past (“Bible times”) and elsewhere (“the mission fields”)." ("Embarrased By the Spirit?")

Last week, and this morning, we prayed for sick people to be well. I asked for a show of hands - "How many are suffering from some physical emotional illness and would like to receive prayer for it?" Many hands went up. We had people come today because they heard we were doing this.

We saw healings, last week, and this morning. I talked with a number of people who told me they had pain, and after praying for them the pain was gone. A group of our youth were praying for two women. From the other side of the sanctuary I heard spontaneous applause. I went over and asked the women what happened. Both said, with smiles on their faces, that chronic pain had been taken away. They were now praising God for what only he can do!

This is the kind of thing that should happen in church, right? How weird to be in a church where expectation is low, even nonexistent, even to be avoided, and there are no prayers for sick people who are there. How bizarre if a church is embarrassed by doing this. What if, horror upon horror, we bring a friend who sees this happening, and they are freaked out by it!

Olson writes:

"We [in the American Church] pray for the sick—that God will comfort them and “be with them” in their misery. We pray that God will give their doctors skill as they treat them. But we avoid asking God to heal them. We avoid any mention of demons or demonic possession and strictly shun exorcism as primitive and superstitious—except when Jesus did it. We look down on churches that anoint the sick with oil and pray for their physical healing. We suspect they are “cultic” and probably encourage ill people not to seek medical treatment. We (perhaps rightly) make fun of evangelists who claim to have prayed for God to re-route hurricanes but never ourselves pray for God to save people from natural disasters. We have gradually adopted the idea that “Prayer doesn’t change things; it changes me” and, like Friedrich Schleiermacher, regard petitionary prayer as something for children."

Olson is correct. I experience cognitive dissonance when 1) I read stories of the first century church in the Bible; and then 2) I am in churches where virtually nothing about the first-century church happens and, more than this, is dismissed as dangerous and "weird." Which is really weird, to me.

This morning, during our worship experience, someone spoke in tongues, followed by an interpretation. As a young Jesus-follower, who had never read the New Testament, some people told me that things like speaking in tongues and prophesying and engaging demons were bizarre. This had some impact on me, since I was a philosophy major, and philosophy is the discipline that elevates reason over experience, and definitely over feelings and emotions. I was in a hard position, since the Bible I was reading said tongues and prophecy and healing were given to the church, by the Holy Spirit, for its edification. I concluded that the cessationists were wrong. I went one night, alone, into the sanctuary of the Lutheran church I was raised in, knelt at the altar, and prayed, "God, I want everything you have for me, including the spiritual gifts you have given to us."

Olson writes:

"My experience is that the richer and more educated we evangelicals... become the less likely we are to really believe in and expect miracles. We relegate the supernatural to the inner work of persons believing that God can change people's hearts, but we do not really believe God intervenes in the physical world. Yet the Bible is full of examples of God's interventions in the physical world, it commands us to pray for such, and evangelical (and Catholic) Christians in the Global South almost all believe in and pray for God's miraculous interventions - especially in healing the sick."

My belief is that most American Christians have given in - unconsciously - to a reductionist, anti-supernaturalist worldview. They say they live by biblical truths, while practically denying how those truths played out in the early church. Why? Not because of intellectual reasoning, but because, as Olson and I know, they want their religion to be "respectable." (Ahhh...., the religion of respectability.)

Are there abuses by Christian pastors on cable TV? Of course. But the following reasoning fails:

1) There are abuses by people who believe in the spiritual gifts.
2) Therefore, the spiritual gifts are to be avoided, or are even non-existent.

No. That is irrational. The baby is thrown out with the bathwater.

Next Sunday morning at Redeemer we'll talk about this again. We will pray for the sick. Underscore the word we. This is our "normal." I will pray for a fresh anointing on our people to pray for the sick. My expectation level is high. The reality of God showing up in love and power feels biblical to me. It's beautiful. It's better than the many words of the sermons I give. It feels like Church. And few people are thinking about "getting out on time."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Now Happening at Redeemer

Worship at Redeemer

Some things that are happening at Redeemer:

FACING OUR FEARS AND EMBRACING THE FATHER: On Sunday evening, April 2, 6 PM, Linda Piippo will speak and teach on fear, how to face it, and how to overcome it. This is the presentation Linda gave at the recent Dayton conference. Anyone is invited to come. A time of refreshments and fellowship will follow.

PRAYING BOOK STUDY: Pastor John's study on his book Praying will meet on Sat. morning, April 1, 10 AM. Issues we will look at include: How solitary prayin...g helps in the creation of authentic community; How praying is bigger than what we can think or see; How praying shapes us into overcomers; and How praying releases us from a spirit of control. Anyone interested is invited to come.

HOW DO WE RESPOND TO IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES? What would Jesus have us do? Pastor John will be leading a book study on this issue, using the book Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis. If you are interested in being part of this, then: 1) Let John know; and 2) purchase the book and read it. John will be looking at a date when we can meet to discuss, pray, and listen to what God is saying to us.

BAPTISMS: Sunday morning, April 9.

1 PETER 2:24 - Healing and the Atonement: Part 2. This Sunday, March 19, 10:30, at Redeemer. Bring friends who would like us to pray for their physical and emotional healing. And yes, I do expect people to be healed!

MINISTRY TO VICTIMS OF SEX TRAFFICKING AND EXPLOITATION: Some of our church's women are involved in a ministry that goes into strip clubs and reaches out to the women involved in this. If you are interested, please contact the church office - 734-242-5277.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Addressing Same-Sex Relationships - Two Issues

(I keep revising this little document, as occasionally someone asks me about it.)

For Christian theists concerned about the way the same-sex marriage discussion has gone in America, I suggest there are two issues: one religious, the other legal. 
The Religious Issue

A fellow Jesus-follower recently asked me two questions. They were:

"Could a gay person ever serve as a leader in your church?" My answer was: yes. (Such as, e.g., theologian Wesley Hill (who is same-sex oriented), whose book Washed and Waiting is important in this discussion, and who teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.)

And: "Could a gay person who teaches that God affirms the gay lifestyle ever serve as a leader in your church?" My answer was: no. Love does not equal affirming. Even churches that call themselves "affirming" do not affirm everything. For example, I can imagine an affirming church that does not affirm certain of my beliefs. It is not loving to affirm anything and everything, carte blanche.

What's the difference between the first question and the second question? Here's what I think. But first, a few preliminaries.

Preliminary matter #1: If you are not a self-professing Christian, AKA a follower of Jesus the Christ, then you do not share my ethical worldview. And, of course, I do not share your ethical worldview. So in what follows I am addressing Christians.
My ethical worldview can be seen in a book like, e.g., The Moral View of the New Testament, by Richard Hays. Reading Hays' book could give you an understanding of how and why I think certain actions are right, and other actions are wrong.
I might be curious about your ethical worldview. You have one, because you make moral judgments. Most people have not examined their ethical worldview, so you may not know where your moral judgments come from. Let's say, for the sake of discussion, that you hold to a utilitarian ethic. If so, then I will be in profound disagreement of a number of your ethical evaluations.
I am saying this because, if you are not committed to the ethics of Jesus, and perhaps you don't even believe in God, then I expect you will not like my views on ethical issues. I think I understand that. I want you to understand that, as well. We then will have something like a "clash of civilizations," to borrow from Samuel Huntington. And our ultimate discussion will be about worldviews, rather than particulars within disparate worldviews. 

Preliminary matter #2: To disagree is not to hate. At least, that is what my Christian theistic worldview teaches me.
In addition to that, my philosophy classes taught me how to disagree without hating. I learned that disagreement is not logically equivalent to hatred. Hatred, when it happens, is a sad add-on to disagreement. It was sad that Socrates was killed by the hatred of some who failed to understand him. The way Socrates handled this has been a model of disagreeing while not hating.

My philosophy professors expected disagreement and questioning. They made the classroom a safe place. I learned that a safe place is not a place where everyone agrees about everything. A safe place is a place where people can disagree and learn and grow in wisdom.

A safe place is a place where disagreement is accompanied by love and respect. An unsafe place is a place where disagreement breeds hatred.

A safe place is a place for civil discourse. An unsafe place is a place where you don't have a voice.

A safe place is a place where people come first to understand, and only after understanding is achieved, to evaluate. An unsafe place is where people judge without understanding.

A safe place is a place where you can be angry, but sin not.

Preliminary matter #3: I do not expect you to affirm a belief I have, but with which you disagree. Nor should you expect me to affirm a belief you have, but with which I disagree.
Therefore, when it comes to certain ethical beliefs, you and I will make different choices, and act differently. I expect that to be the case.

Now, for the intra-Christian discussion; i.e., the discussion between professing Jesus-followers.
At the heart of this discussion, I believe, is the nature and authority of the biblical texts. The Bible is our Text. In the Bible we find the Jesus-Narrative. Just as, e.g., a utilitarian consults the writings of John Stuart Mill, or an atheist reads Nietzsche.
On a scale of 0-10, how much authority should the Bible have in the life of a Christian? If '0' means no authority, that does not seem right. Most (but not all) of the Jesus-followers I have met in my life consider biblical authority to be a '10', or approaching that number.
I am one of those. That is, the Bible is The Authoritative Text for me. In, e.g., matters of right and wrong, good and bad.
I am not studying social media or listening to news readers (CNN, Fox, you name it) to construct my ethical worldview. What is currently popular is essentially irrelevant to matters of right and wrong. (This, as I see it, is one of the problems with utilitarian ethics; viz., the terms "good" and "bad" are a function of what makes the most, or the least, amount of people "happy.")

So, if someone says they are a “Christian,” then I reason as follows.
1. Christians desire to follow God’s will.
2. God’s will is given to us in the Bible.
3. The Bible forbids same-sex unions.
4. Therefore, same-sex unions are against God’s will. 

On P1 (Premise 1): Virtually all Jesus-followers affirm this to be true. (How odd to think otherwise, correct? Imagine someone who says, "I am a follower of Jesus, but I do not want to follow Jesus.")

On P2 – Again, Jesus-followers will have little problem with this. There may be discussion on the nature of biblical authority. That is another, and important, discussion. And, there will be matters of interpretation, on which good Christians can and do disagree. (If you are a Christian, please help me by: 1) telling me your view of biblical authority; and 2) telling me how you justify your view of biblical authority.)

If you are a follower of Jesus, it follows that you place a high premium on the words of the Bible. The Bible is our Narrative (remember: everyone has a Narrative, even post-modern theorists who reject metanarratives). For those few billion people in this Jesus-camp, we can and should have discussions over the meaning of the biblical texts, their interpretation, and the nature of their authority. And, again, we can discuss without hating one another. (A good book on explaining the biblical text as our Narrative is N.T. Wright, The Last Word.)
The biblical text guides us (not others) in what we are to affirm or not affirm. Good and bad, right and wrong, are contingent on what God affirms. (This ethical worldview is called Divine Command Theory.)

So, on P3 - Does the biblical text disaffirm same-sex unions? I believe it does. Which is to say: God does not affirm this. We see this in the biblical text, which is authoritative for those of us who self-define as Christians.

I disagree with Christians who think that, somehow, the biblical text does not disaffirm same-sex unions. I can say this without hating anyone. Disagreement does not equal hatred. Even if I was not a Christian, and was asked to look as objectively as I can at what the Bible says about same-sex unions, I would conclude: it does not affirm them; indeed, it speaks against them. One can surely admit this without hating anyone. Again, to disagree is not to hate.

This is where the intra-Christian discussion lies. If you want to go straight to the heart of this discussion, and look at all the relevant biblical texts in-depth, I can suggest nothing better than Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, by Dan O. Via and Robert Gagnon. See, e.g., these reviews, which I copy to defend the scholarship contained therein.
“Christians challenged by questions surrounding Scripture on same-sex relations will find an invaluable chart for navigating these confusing waters.” — Joel B. Green, Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary (endorsement inside book)
“Gagnon’s brilliant condensation of his arguments should be a significant asset for clergy and laity, while Via opens new challenges.” — Catherine Clark Kroeger, Associate Professor of Classical and Ministry Studies, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (endorsement inside book)
“I know of no finer presentation of all the main issues.” — Graham Stanton, Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge (endorsement inside book)
“I know of no other work that so clearly illumines the biblical issues at the heart of the controversy.” — Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke Divinity School (endorsement inside book)
“Presents a vigorous, illuminating debate about the implications of scripture for contemporary attitudes toward homosexuality. I strongly recommend this book.” –James F. Childress, Hollingsworth Professor of Ethics, University of Virginia

If you want to engage in a civil, intra-Christian dialogue over Premise 3, then I am expecting you to put in some study, and read all sides. I have done this. I have extensively studied and been involved in this discussion since the 1970s. I have done all the contextual studies and word-studies relevant to the context, plus read everything available by Christians who disagree with me. As a result, I believe the Bible not only never affirms a gay lifestyle, it speaks against it.

I do not believe a gay sexual orientation is sinful. I have gay friends who follow Jesus who have chosen, on the basis of the biblical teaching, abstinence. See again, e.g., Wesley Hill. Or my friend Phillip Lee. There are gay Christians who agree with Premise 3. Could a Wesley Hill or a Phillip Lee serve in my church? Absolutely!

In the Two Views book, Dan Via is for gay marriage, Robert Gagnon is against gay marriage. Both are New Testament scholars. But note this. Via agrees that one cannot interpret the biblical text as supportive of same-sex marriage. So he gives us a principle that seems of God to him as a justification for allowing same-sex marriages today. I find myself ultimately not affirming of Via's views on biblical authority.

For Gagnon’s more complete biblical argument against textual support of same-sex marriage, see his The Bible and Homosexuality: Texts and Interpretation. Of this book reviews include:

“…In its learnedness, [Gagnon’s] book will…be in the vanguard of its position and cannot be ignored….” — Martti Nissinen, University of Helsinki, and author of Homoeroticism in the Biblical World (From the Jacket Flap)
“…the fullest and best presentation of the conservative position….expressing the case same-sex intercourse sympathetically and convincingly.” — I. Howard Marshall, Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, University of Aberdeen, Scotland (Blurb Inside Book)
“…the most thorough examination of the scriptural and theological…perspectives on same-sex relations….a tour de force.” — Marion L. Soards, Professor of New Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (From Jacket Flap)
“Gagnon has offered a learned, judicious, and comprehensive examination of the biblical testimony….fair and compassionate…a major resource….” — Brevard S. Childs, Sterling Professor of Divinity (Hebrew Bible), Emeritus, Yale Divinity School (From Inside Book)
“Gagnon’s book is an extremely valuable contribution to the current debate….I recommend this book wholeheartedly.” — C. E. B. Cranfield, Professor of Theology (New Testament), Emeritus, University of Durham (From Inside Book)
“Gagnon’s incisive logic, prudent judgment, and exhaustive research should make this book a dominant voice in the contemporary debate.” — Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., Professor of New Testament, Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem (From the Back Cover)
“I believe that this volume will become a classic in the ongoing discussion of the church’s…response to homosexuality.” — Duane F. Watson, Professor of New Testament, Malone College (From Inside Book)
“I know of no comparable study of the texts and interpretive debates that surround homosexual behavior.” — Max L. Stackhouse, Stephen Colwell Professor of Christian Ethics, Princeton Theological Seminary (From the Jacket Flap)
“No Christian concerned with homosexuality can afford to ignore this book.” — John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford (From the Back Cover)
“This is a brilliant, original, and highly important work,…indispensable even for those who disagree with the author.” — James Barr, Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible, Emeritus, Vanderbilt University

Someone recently said to me, as a supposed objection to my position, "But the Bible says more about greed than it does about homosexuality?" OK. But this is irrelevant, a non-objection. I know of no scholar who reasons as follows: the more a sin is mentioned, the more serious it is to God. I am certain more should be said in some churches about sins like greed. And like gluttony (and note: contextual studies will need to be done here). Bestiality is mentioned in the Bible, less so than greed and homosexuality. But, in all this, the point is: the lesser mentioned are not the more approved; the more mentioned are not the less approved.

Back to my original questions. Imagine a person who considered gluttony to be contrary to God's desire (acknowledging it to "miss the mark," hence, be a sin), struggled with gluttony themselves, and got help and prayer to hopefully overcome it. Could they serve as a leader in my church? Unless there were other special, mitigating circumstances, the answer is: yes. Every one of us, more or less, is in that place. I struggle with things I know are sinful. But if this person not only struggled with gluttony but affirmed it, in the sense of claiming and teaching that God affirms (loves, likes) gluttonous behavior, and expected me to affirm it, then my answer is: no.

Re. Premise 4, Gagnon concludes that it is true. So do I. I don't hate you if you disagree with us. For any who have followed my blog over the years, you know I am praying, broadly, to love my enemies, and that is not you. If you disagree with me, I do not consider you my enemy. If you love me, you won't hate me for thinking you are incorrect.

The Legal Issue

I think a lot of Christians have rushed over the cliff without a civil discussion. (Five white Ivy-league lawyers decided on the meaning of "marriage" for our nation. What if there had been a national discussion, and then a national vote?)

I think the area we should be most concerned to address is the legal issue, and not the religious issue. This is because, overwhelmingly, we don’t legislate biblical morality. For example, biblically, gossip and gluttony are sins. Engaged in, they mitigate against human flourishing. But I don't think we should legislate against them. I don’t think we should make a law against gossip, or a law against gluttony. 

Continue to address the meaning of “marriage.” 

Don’t be intellectually seduced by the bandwagon fallacy.Regarding the legal matter, the issue is about the definition of “marriage.” Might we in America have a civil discourse about this? The truth or falsity of the statement We should allow for same-sex marriage rests heavily on the meaning of the term “marriage.” Some of us, myself included, feel like many of our government leaders have rushed forward to change the meaning of marriage, without discussion. 

The term "marriage equality" changes the definition of marriage, without discussion. Of course if "marriage" is defined as a union between consenting adults, irregardless of their gender, than same-sex marriages should be legally allowed. But that has not been the legally prevailing definition of marriage. If marriage is defined as between a man and a woman, anything outside those parameters is irrelevant, and no injustice is involved in disallowing gay unions to be called marriages. As Ryan T. Anderson has written, "A truth acknowledged for millennia has been overruled by five unelected judges." (Anderson, Ryan T. Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, Kindle Location 89) Without allowing for an extended, civil discourse. Any citizen ought to feel troubled by such an act of unrestrained power.

Read the editorial in CNN by Robert George (prof. of jurisprudence at Harvard and Princeton), Sherif Gergis (Princeton and Yale), and Ryan T. Anderson – “Gay Marriage, then Group Marriage?” They write:

“Of course, if marriage were simply about recognizing bonds of affection or romance, then two men or two women could form a marriage just as a man and woman can. But so could three or more in the increasingly common phenomenon of group (“polyamorous”) partnerships. In that case, to recognize opposite-sex unions but not same-sex or polyamorous ones would be unfair — a denial of equality.” Please read this entire editorial. 

For a more complete version see their recent, essentially non-religious book What is Marriage? Man and Woman – a Defense. As you read it jump off the cultural bandwagon and think your way through it.