Monday, May 29, 2017

Don't Sweat It, for the Kingdom of God is Real

Monroe County

If you are looking for summer reading I recommend Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teaching on Faith and Formation. I finished it this morning. It's touching, moving, deep, and inspiring.

I have highlighted many things. I'm going to slow-cook more in this book by re-reading all I highlighted.

God is addressing me in many ways through Willard's life. One is my need to do my best in obedience to God, and then to leave the results to him. I still worry too much about results. My worrying adds nothing to the outcome, but subtracts from the wellness of my soul.

Mindy Caliguire writes:

"One of Dallas’s greatest gifts to me personally was his repeated, if simple, challenge to place my confidence in the reality of the kingdom...  Whatever part I have to play in this world, I will do it with all the intensity and passion I have to offer. But not with more than I have to offer. And having made my offering, I can let go of the outcomes. I can rest. I can both care and not care." (Kindle Locations 2812-2817)

Kent Carlson writes:

Dallas "continually trusted that the kingdom of God was real, active, operative and advancing all the time. Since this was true, it was not dependent on him or anybody to make it real, active, operative or advancing. Therefore there was no need for worry, anxiety, manipulating, controlling, rushing about or “making it happen.” Certainly we are to work, and to work hard. This is neither an invitation to laziness nor to passivity. Rather, it is an invitation to a life lived in actual confidence in God." (Kindle Locations 2897-2900)

Keith Meyer quotes Dallas as saying, "Leave the results to God - don't sweat it."

The process looks like this.

1. To the best of my knowledge, I have heard from God.

2. To the best of my ability, I have obeyed God.

3. To the best of my faith, I leave the outcome to God.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Show Up on Sunday Mornings

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Redeemer sanctuary

Studies show that people who call themselves Christians are going less and less to Sunday morning worship experiences. This phenomenon is part of the general colonization of secular, individuated culture, in the Church. Like the alien who found a host in the astronaut, anti-Christness lives in the belly of the American Church. (If you doubt this read The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher.)

Christians who go less and less on Sunday mornings are being occupied and secularized. Secular culture places no worth on Jesus-followers gathering together. Sports leagues for kids is but one example of paganism successfully colonizing the Church. (See here.)

This is tragic, because if you are a Jesus-follower, then you are one of the "called-out" (
ek-kaleo; ekklesia) people of God and his Kingdom. You are part of The Movement. You are the Church.

"Church" is a tribal thing. We see this in the little word "you." In the letters of Paul, "you" is almost always plural. This is significant.

Tribal Church is seen in the "body of Christ" passages of 1 Corinthians 12-13-14. We are members of one Body. We need one another. None of this is about individual happiness. In Scripture there is no true blessedness unless it is corporate blessedness.

Hebrews 10:25 says, Do
not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. Today the word "some" has become "many," and in the days ahead "many" will become "most." At that point, pagan individualism will have won the day, at least in the Western Church.


Meet with your family members. And plug in. Get active. Stop being a mere attender. Be a contributing body part. Stop saying your church does little for you; start doing much for your tribe.

Be exorcised of Western consumerism. Church is not something you either like or don't like (like salad dressings). It was never about that.

Don't forsake gathering as Church. If you forsake Church gatherings you are abandoning your spiritual brothers and sisters. And you are forsaking your core identity as a follower of Jesus.

Jesus did not say "I will build individuals," but "I will build my Church."
 

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Uninterested, Uninvolved God of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism


Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, argues Rod Dreher in The Benedict Option, has won in the West; Mere Christianity has lost.


Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is, argues U of Notre Dame's Christian Smith, the de facto, default religion of American teenagers today. MTD's core beliefs are:


1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.

2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Smith writes:

"Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents. This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, etc. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people."

The God of MTD is "one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in our affairs—especially affairs in which we would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance."

I meet MTD-ers all the time in my MCCC philosophy classes. Some even think they are Christians, or that the worldview of MTD is the worldview of Jesus. The reason for this is that, while MTD is not an official, organized religion, MTD is "colonizing" other religions. Think now of the alien in the astronaut's body who is waiting to bust out of his chest.

Read Smith's entire article for the details. See also Smith's book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

One more quote from Smith:

"When teenagers talked in their interviews about “grace,” they were usually talking about the television show Will and Grace, not about God’s grace. When teenagers discussed “honor,” they were almost always talking about taking honors courses or making the honor role at school, very rarely about honoring God with their lives. When teens mentioned being “justified,” they almost always meant having a reason for doing something behaviorally questionable, not having their relationship with God made right."

For Smith's research project see National Study of Youth and Religion. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Join Me at the Holy Spirit Renewal Conference - June 25-29

Holy Spirit Renewal Conference
Coming Soon ~ June 25-29 
EARLY BIRD REGISTRATION ENDS MAY 31st
Teamwork couple hikers success in sunset mountains accomplish with arms up outstretched. Young man and woman on rocky mountain range looking at beautiful inspirational landscape view Gran Canaria Canary Islands.

There's a whole new world waiting to open up to you this summer at the
Holy Spirit Renewal Conference, Green Lake, Wisconsin.
Come and receive strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
Great is God's faithfulness!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

There Probably Was a Global Flood

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Detroit

See the New York Times, "Looming Floods, Threatened Cities."

“I don’t think the biblical deluge is just a fairy tale,” said Terence J. Hughes, a retired University of Maine glaciologist living in South Dakota. “I think some kind of major flood happened all over the world, and it left an indelible imprint on the collective memory of mankind that got preserved in these stories.”

I Don't Believe in Fairies Either (On the Conceptual Confusion of Unlearned Atheists)

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Small Plates restaurant, Detroit



David Bentley Hart, in The Experience of God (Yale University Press), writes something related to my post "It's False That an Atheist Just Believes in One Fewer God than a Theist Does." Hart states (pay attention here):

"At a trivial level, one sees the confusion in some of the more shopworn witticisms of popular atheism: “I believe neither in God nor in the fairies at the bottom of my garden,” for instance, or “All people are atheists in regard to Zeus, Wotan, and most other gods; I simply disbelieve in one god more.” Once, in an age long since vanished in the mists of legend, those might even have been amusing remarks, eliciting sincere rather than merely liturgical laughter; but, even so, all they have ever demonstrated is a deplorable ignorance of elementary conceptual categories." (Hart, The Experience of God, p. 33)

When you do a philosophy degree, you regularly meet, interact, and dialogue with atheists and theists. In all my years of studying I never heard one of my atheist professors compare their God-disbelief with fairy-disbelief, or disbelief in Zeus. The proliferation of these silly quotes are the result of not-so-brights invading the intellectual atheist camp. It's embarrassing! (Remember atheist Michael Ruse's embarrassment at Richard Dawkins's God Delusion?)

In the real discussion about God's existence or non-existence these quotes mean nothing. Let me help the unscholarly atheist out of their conceptual confusion by quoting Hart once again.

"Beliefs regarding fairies are beliefs about a certain kind of object that may or may not exist within the world, and such beliefs have much the same sort of intentional shape and rational content as beliefs regarding one’s neighbors over the hill or whether there are such things as black swans. Beliefs regarding God concern the source and ground and end of all reality, the unity and existence of every particular thing and of the totality of all things, the ground of the possibility of anything at all." (Ib.)

If you understand that ,then you've been set free from all those cute quotes about fairies, Zeus, Osiris, "my invisible friend," the Flying Spaghetti Monster," "we atheists just believe in one less god than you," and so on and on and...
  

Seeking Knowledge, or Just Doing Research?

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Linda's piano/vocal students - May 2017

In my college Logic classes I told my students that critical thinking helps us arrive at the truth or falsity of statements (claims, beliefs). We want to know if our beliefs are true.

I loved talking with students about logic and truth. Many of them had never heard such talk before, and seemed confused by it. They were especially boggled by the idea that, in logic, if a statement is true, it is true for everyone.

For example: Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This statement is true, which means: the described state of affairs obtains. If it obtains, it obtains for everyone. Thus, regarding statements, there is no "true for you, but false for me" discussion.

Logic is a tool that can help us evaluate and formulate what we can know. It is precisely this claim to knowledge that troubles students, since it seems arrogant. Dallas Willard (USC Prof. of Philosophy) understood this. He wrote:

"It is not irrelevant that contemporary institutions of higher education see themselves not as knowledge institutions, but as research institutions. To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, when people no longer believe in truth, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in research." (Willard, Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teaching on Faith and Formation, Kindle Locations 1273-1278)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Feeling God's Presence (The Presence-Driven Church)

Redeemer sanctuary

"When I entered your church's sanctuary I felt the presence of God."

Over my twenty-five years at Redeemer I have heard these words many times, in many variations, spoken by people new to our Jesus-community.

"I sensed God's peace as I approached your building."

"I encountered God's power as I worshiped with your people."

"Surely the Lord is in this place."

I experience this, too. This is how it should be. Jesus-followers encounter, regularly, the earth-shattering presence of God.

This is not about a physical building, but about a people who host the presence of God. Remember how Jesus changed the whole Temple thing from a physical structure to a people, individually (1 Cor. 3:16) and corporately (1 Cor. 6:19). (In the first verse the word 'you' is singular; in the second verse the word 'you' is plural.) God has come to dwell among His people, to inhabit His lovers, in their singular hearts, and in their plural midst.

This is a visceral, experiential reality, and not just a theory or a propositional truth. One
feels God, within and without.

As God lavishly pours out His love into our hearts, this is, precisely and Hebraically, best understood as a feeling. (Note: part of my evangelical heritage is to pause at this point and warn me about the dangers of "feelings." I respond to this by noting the dangers and vacuity of theory and intellect without feelings. I want to know God-feelings as experience, since experience, not theory, breeds conviction. All talk about God's "love" is meaning-deficient if it does not include feeling.)

Consider these words from Robert Barclay, written in 1701.

"When I came into the silent assemblies of God's people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart. And as I gave way to it, I found the evil in me weakening, and the good lifted up. Thus it was that I was knit into them and united with them. And I hungered more and more for the increase of this power and life until I could feel myself perfectly redeemed." (Barclay - see
here, p. 357; cited in Richard J. Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, Kindle Locations 302-304)

Welcome God's presence into your life today.

Host the earth-shattering presence of God.

Get ready to "know," in the sense of to "feel."

Dallas Willard and the God Who Is Near

Dead tree in my backyard

For anyone who has been influenced by the life and writings of Dallas Willard here is required reading - Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teachings on Faith and Formation. This book is a collection of thirty people who knew Dallas, and their gratefulness to God for his friendship.

Two Evangelical Friends pastors recommended it to me at the conference last week. One of them said he has read it three times. I can see why. I just picked it up and am halfway through it. Along the way I have been touched by many things, including the reflections on Dallas's life and integrity. Reading these testimonials makes me want to be a better person.

Dallas believed that reality is far bigger than what can be accessed via the five physical senses. He believed we could know reality, to include spiritual realities. In support of this thesis Dallas drew heavily on phenomenological philosopher Edmund Husserl. And, he drew upon personal experiences that corroborated it.

Here is one story of an experience Dallas had with God.

"One evening, following a special service on campus, Dallas had an unexpected encounter with God...  a vivid experience with the presence of God. “It stayed with me for days, weeks. It never left me really,” Dallas said. “After that I never had the feeling that God was distant or had a problem hearing me.” That night when they went to bed, Jane related, Dallas exclaimed, “There is an angel at each corner of the bed.” Dallas added, “I did not have an image but a sense that they were there.”"  (Willard, Eternal Living, Kindle Locations 183-188)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

How To Hear the Voice of God


Monroe (D & J's home)

Often people ask me the question "How do I hear the voice of God?" A related question is, "How do I know it's God speaking to me and not just myself or some other voice?" In brief, here's my response.

1. Abide in Christ. Dwell with God. Spend much time with God. There's simply no substitute for this. For about "Mc-hearing" God. God can't be fast-fooded. Hearing the voice of God is largely an acquired thing. Analogically, I spend much time talking with Linda and listening to her. The result is that I know her heart, and her heart's desires, very well.

2. Saturate yourself in Scripture. The greater one's familiarity with Scripture is, the greater one will be able to know when it's God speaking and not something else. Begin by saturating yourself in Matthew-Mark-Luke-John. Try reading these over and over and over, slowly and meditatively, for a year. I did it recently for two years and found it very helpful. Read the four Gospels as if you've never read them before. As you read them, when God speaks to you, write it down in a journal.

3. Hang around people who do 1 and 2. Meet with other Jesus-followers who actually pray. Talk together about what you feel God has been saying to you. It won't do any good to talk to people who don't spend time alone with God. You'll just end up speculating about theology. They won't have a clue about what it means to hear the voice of God. Meeting together with people who do 1&2 provides corporate discernment. One can learn a lot about hearing God in such an environment.

Additionally - Don't multi-task the God-relationship. Spend much time with God... alone. Just you and God. Face to face. Heart to heart.

If you're unfamiliar with this, my recommendation is: just start doing it. In the process you'll learn what this is about because God so much wants you to know Him experientially and relationally.


One very good book on hearing the voice of God is: Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

See also my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Many Who Leave Christianity Don't Know What They Have Left


"New social science research indicate[s] that young adults are almost entirely ignorant of the teachings and practices of the historical Christian faith." (Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, p. 2)

Seventeen years of teaching philosophy at our local college confirms this, for me. Even most students who call themselves Christians don't know what historic Christianity is.

The "nones," Millennials who say they have left Christianity, are ignorant of what they claim to have abandoned.

None: "I left the Christian faith."

What is the Christian faith?

None: "I don't know."

Or,

None: "I left a caricature of Christianity, which was not historical Christianity."

The ignorance of the "nones" extends to their "noneness." They don't believe, and don't know why. Or, they don't believe, and then google to find a reason why they don't believe, and then present that reason as a justification for unbelief. (This especially applies to nones raised in legalistic, fundamentalist environments.) 

Socrates, in an appeal to critical thinking, said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Most, he said, would rather be pigs who are nonreflective but satisfied. Socrates would rather live the examined life, even if it dissatisfied him.

That was 2500 years ago. Since then, no progress has been made.



Friday, May 19, 2017

Pride and Shame

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Dead tree, in my backyard

I tell my seminary students that they still have too much pride. I say this because I believe it to be true. So do you.

So do I.

This includes, obversely, having too much shame.

Pride and shame are two sides of the same coin. The coin is self-obsession. Pride and shame are both forms of self-obsession. Pride says, "I am great and to be admired," and shame says, "I am  despicable and deserving of neglect."

The antidote to self-obsession is humility. Humility is produced as one abides in Christ and is transformed into greater and greater Christlikeness. The humble person discards the coin of self-obsession, knowing it has no cash value in the kingdom of heaven. The humble person is therefore the free person, having been rescued out of their subhumanity.

Proud and shameful people cannot love others purely, being tainted by their need to be recognized. A humble person does not need to be recognized; therefore, they are free to recognize others. 

Non-Discursive Experiences of God

Kitty Hawk, NC

A non-discursive experience is an experience that is felt and "known" as real, but which cannot be captured in the steel nets of literal language. One has such experiences, but cannot discourse about them. (On religious experiences that "I know that I know that I know" but cannot speak of, see James K.A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues.)

I experience God in a variety of ways, many of which are non-discursive. This is how it should be, right? None of us has epistemic access to the being of God. We have no clue about what it's like to be all-knowing, or all-loving, or all-powerful.

The expression of a non-discursive experience is confessional and testimonial. There is a sense in which it cannot be refuted. What does this mean? Say, for example, that I now feel joy. I make the statement, “Now I feel joy.” It would be odd, in a Wittgensteinian-kind of way, for someone to say “You’re wrong.” That would be leaving the language-game I’m now playing. (Wittgensteinian “playing” is what I have here in mind.)

Consider the statement, “I felt God close to me today.” Even a philosophical materialist could not doubt that today I had some kind of numinous experience which I describe as God being with me. They could and would doubt that what caused my experience was “God.” I understand this. But their doubt has no real effect on my experience and the interpretation of it. Their doubt does not make me a doubter, precisely because I am not a philosophical materialist. I see no reason to disbelieve my experiences because others do not have them. This relates, I think, to Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne's "principle of credulity."

At this point I’m influenced by theistic philosophers Alvin Plantinga and William P. Alston. For them, belief in God is properly basic if the noetic framework of Christian theism is true. Plantinga’s work on “warranted belief” and Alston’s work on the “experiential basis of theism” is helpful here. Alston writes: “the relatively abstract belief that God exists is constitutive of the doxastic practice of forming particular beliefs about God's presence and activity in our lives on the basis of theistic experience.” I realize that sentence may need a lot of unpacking. Suffice it to say here that, for Alston, experiential support for theism is analogous to experiential support for belief in the physical world.

Alston explains what he means by “theistic experience.” He writes:

I “mean it to range over all experiences that are taken by the experiencer to be an awareness of God (where God is thought of theistically). I impose no restrictions on its phenomenal quality. It could be a rapturous loss of conscious self-identity in the mystical unity with God; it could involve "visions and voices"; it could be an awareness of God through the experience of nature, the words of the Bible, or the interaction with other persons; it could be a background sense of the presence of God, sustaining one in one's ongoing activities. Thus the category is demarcated by what cognitive significance the subject takes it to have, rather than by any distinctive phenomenal feel.”

For Plantinga, if the noetic framework of Christian theism is true, then I can expect to experience God. On this noetic framework God exists, has made us in his image, has placed a moral consciousness within us, has revealed himself in the creation, and desires for us to know him. Plantinga, of course, believes this noetic framework is true. As do I. One then expects experiential encounters with God. They come to us, as Alston says, like sense-experiences.

This is to argue for the rationality of theistic experiences. One can have “warrant” for the belief that such experiences are from God. But these experiences do not function as “proofs” of God’s existence.

Non-discursive experiences, and experiences in general, cannot be caught in the steel nets of literal language. “Experience” qua experience has what French philosopher Paul Ricoeur has called a “surplus of meaning.” “Words” never capture all of experience. Never. All experiencing has a non-discursive quality. Here the relationship, if any, of words to experiencing leads to volumes of discussion in areas such as linguistic semantics and philosophy of language.

Even a sentence as seemingly simple as “I see a tree” is, phenomenally, incomplete. Consider this experience: sitting on an ocean beach watching the sun set with the person you are falling in love with. Ricoeur called such experiences “limit-experiences”; viz., experiences that arise outside the limits of thought and language. But people want to express, in words, these events. For that, Ricoeur says a “limit-language” is needed, such as metaphorical expression. So-called “literal language” cannot express limit-experiences.

Every person has limit-experiences that move into the arena of non-discursiveness.

I believe that experience, not theory, breeds conviction. Theorizing either for or against God is not as convincing as the sense of the presence of God or the sense of the absence of God. This is precisely why, in spite of all my previous and ongoing theoretical studies about God, I keep returning to my “conversion experience.”

Among the God-experiences I consistently have are:
- A sense that God is with me
- Numinous experiences of awe and wonder (not mere “Einsteinian wonder”)
- God speaking to me
- God leading me
- God comforting me
- God’s love expressed towards me
- God’s Spirit convicting me
- God directing me
- Overwhelming experience of God
- God revealing more of himself to me

These experiences are mediated through:
-Corporate worship
-Individuals
-Solitary times of prayer
-Study of the Christian scriptures
-Observing the creation
-In difficult and testing situations

And sometimes I have experienced God in an unmediated way.

I discern and judge such things to be experiences of God because:
-I spend many hours a week praying
-I have heavily invested myself in prayer and meditation for the past 40 years
-I saturate myself in the Christian scriptures
-I have studied the history of Christian spirituality
-I keep a spiritual journal and, over the past 3 years, have 3000+ pages of journal entries having to do with God experiences and the voice of God to me
-I hang out with a lot of people who do all of the above
- I've taught and yet teach this stuff in various seminaries, at conferences, in the United States & elsewhere around the world. Thus I've gained a multi-ethnic perspective on the subject of experiencing God.

All the above seem to me to increase one’s diacritical ability (dia-krisis; “discernment”; lit. “to cut through”). Spiritual diacritical ability is mostly acquired. Discernment is in direct proportion to familiarity.



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

My book Leading the Presence-Driven Church will be published this summer.

Presence-Driven Pastors Tend, Not Run, the Garden

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Snow falling on my back yard

A Presence-Driven Church is organic.

The soil is the hearts of the people.

The people are taught to abide in Christ.

God is the seed planter.

In the Christ-abiding connection, God sows dreams and visions, course correction and direction, into the hearts of the people.

The Presence-Driven Pastor is not threatened by this. They welcome and nurture it, like parents caring for a newborn baby. The Presence-Driven Pastor is like an expectant parent who prays for this child to be born, prepares a room for it to flourish, and celebrates its arrival.

This is Real Church, a community where everyone (not just the pastor) gets to play. Everyone is part of the movement. Everyone is a leader. When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

To allow this you must let go of control. Which is hard for an Entertainment-Driven Pastor to do. (Hard for many of us, right?) These pastors control the Studio Church. The many are not as talented or as beautiful or as camera-friendly as the few. So they run the garden, rather than tend it. The people are spiritually lobotomized, becoming an audience of outsiders. The Entertainment-Driven Pastor of the Consumer Church has been seduced and trafficked by the American honor-shame hierarchy.

This is, Eugene Peterson writes, a dark vocational shift. It is the "radical fall from vocational holiness to career idolatry," which "goes undetected by all but the serpent." (Eugene Peterson, Eugene H., Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 7)

***




I am now writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church. (Summer 2017)

The Twofold Task of a Presence-Driven Pastor

Kitty Hawk pier

The task of a pastor in a Presence-Driven Church is twofold:

1. Enter into God's presence and dwell there; and
2. Introduce your people to the presence of God in such a way that they abide there.

That will be enough because, as Howard Thurman once wrote, everything is available in the presence of God. To abide in God's presence is to live a fruit-bearing life.

Beyond this, nothing is needed. As Eugene Peterson writes:

"God and passion. That is why I was a pastor, that is why I had come to this place: to live in the presence of God, to live with passion — and to gather others into the presence of God, introducing them into the possibilities of a passionate life." (Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 45)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Why Isn't Everyone Healed?

Some of Redeemer's youth praying for someone.

(I spoke at our church's youth group tonight on Power and Authority for Healing and Deliverance. I'm re-posting this for them.)

Over the years I’ve seen people healed of emotional and physical illnesses. One of them was my grandmother. She lived with my family 6 months out of every year when we were growing up. When she was in her mid-80s she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided not to have it medically treated. The cancerous tumors in her breasts grew. My mother used to bathe her, and visually and physically saw and felt the hard, growing tumors.

Grandma knew she was going to die. She had lived a long life, and was ready to leave this world for another one. She even bought the dress she wanted to be buried in.

When Grandma had spent what we assumed would be her last 6 months in our home, she went to live with my aunt and uncle, who cared for her during the other 6 months. One day my aunt called. She told my mother that, while bathing Grandma, she noticed that the tumors did not appear to be there. My mother could not believe this, yet wanted to. Mom packed her bags and traveled 400 miles to visually inspect Grandma and confirm this.

Grandma lived for 12 more years. She bought two or three more dresses to be buried in. She died at age 97. What happened? How can we explain this? I, and my mother, knew this:

1. Grandma once was cancer-filled, and then one day the cancer was gone.
2.  God healed Grandma.

I’ve heard of, and personally seen, other things like this. (For some really good, current, encouraging stuff see Eric Metaxas's book Miracles. For simply the best academic presentation see Craig Keener's Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.)

I’ve also prayed for people who have not been healed, at least as far as I can tell. Which raises the question: Why? Why do I not see everyone healed when I pray for them? 

I’ve thought long and hard about this over the years. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think I can, given my quite-limited epistemic access, expect to have all the answers. Nonetheless, when I am asked this question, here’s how I respond.

1. Sickness and disease are not caused by God. God hates sickness and disease.
2. Sickness and disease are in this world because we live in, as Jesus referred to it, “this present evil age.” We live in a fallen world that’s ruled by Satan, who is called “the Prince of this world.”
3. Some diseases are part of living in this fallen world. The entire world is crying out for redemption (release) from this bondage.
4. The "age to come" in all its fullness is not our present reality. So, my physical body wastes away even as my spirit is being renewed.
5. See some of the resources I cite below.

Why did God create a world like this? Why a world where such suffering was even allowed? For me the answer is this:


- God is love. That is, God, in His essence, IS love. God cannot not-love.
- Therefore love is the highest value for God.
- God created persons (and spiritual beings) out of love.
- Genuine love is only possible if created agents have free will.
- Therefore God gave created agents free will.
- This is risky, since free will implies that one can choose to not love God.


From God’s end, giving his created agents (that's us) free will is worth it,. This is because God is love, and love is the highest value for God. Much of this world’s suffering happens because of people exercising free will to hurt themselves and others.

This is no mere theory, no abstraction from reality. It is an explanation of reality. As a pastor I’ve been around a lot of death and dying, to include in my own family, even my son David. How do I continue to find hope in such a world?

My understanding of what Jesus taught about the kingdom of God provides answers for me. Jesus talked about “the age to come” where will be no sickness, no struggle, no tears. When God invaded earth in the form of a Person, the “age to come” invaded this present evil age. Jesus once said that, “If you see me cast out demons by the finger of God, you can know that the kingdom of God is in your midst.” That is why I pray for the sick to be healed today, and will continue to do so.

I am part of a faith community. This makes a huge difference. I know people (even Christians) who would never pray for someone to be healed. In a faithless community one should not be shocked that healings are not seen.

Sometimes a deeper spiritual healing is needed. Some illnesses are, at root, spiritual and emotional. I have found that, for example, a person who lives for years with bitterness towards others and refuses to forgive others can be especially subject to physical illnesses. The account of Jesus' healing the lame man let down through the roof (Mark 2:1-12) implies that the forgiveness of the man's sins had some connection with his ability to pick up his mat and walk.


Don't lay blame on the person who is sick. When Jesus prayed for sick people he never blamed them for their sickness. For example, Jesus rejects his disciples’ assumption that the blind man in John 10 was blind because either he or his parents must have sinned.


Persist in prayer. When some sick people are not healed through prayer, it may simply be because we haven't prayed long enough to bring the healing to completion.

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FOR FURTHER READING SEE:


In Francis MacNutt’s classic book Healing he is gives 11 reasons why people may not be healed:
  1. Lack of faith
  2. Redemptive suffering
  3. False value attached to suffering
  4. Sin
  5. Not praying specifically
  6. Faulty diagnosis (is it inner healing/ physical healing/ deliverance that is needed)
  7. Refusal to see medicine as a way God heals
  8. Not using natural means of preserving health
  9. Now is not the time
  10. Different person is to be instrument of healing
  11. Social environment prevents healing taking place


John Wimber, Power Healing. Chapter 8, "Not Everyone Is Healed."

Praying At the Intersection of Heaven and Earth

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Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

(This excerpt is from my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.)

Praying is Inter-asking N.T. Wright believes that “we are people who live at the interface between God’s world and the life of this present world. We are people who belong in that uncomfortable borderland. We are called to stay at this post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on.” ( N. T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, Kindle Locations 4725-4727)

To stay at this post is to be a praying person. Praying is the act of interfacing this world with the kingdom of God. Praying is a relationship occurring where heaven and earth intersect.
In conversational praying, I confer with God about what we are doing together. This viewpoint radically changes a traditional view of prayer as   only  “ petition,” or “asking.” Instead of sending prayer requests up to heaven, heaven meets earth in the place and act of praying. Praying includes asking, but is more than that. It is interacting.

Praying is inter-asking. As you pray you interface with the Maker of heaven and earth. This is important. We are given the location of the God-conference, which is the intersection of heaven and earth. Praying is the place where God and humans meet. Prayer is the point where God and I converge. The moment of praying is when the rule of God (the “kingdom of God”) invades this present darkness.

Real praying is when this happens. For example, Colossians 1: 9 reads:  “ For this reason, since the day we heard about you,   we have not stopped praying for you.   We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will   through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives…” Here, Paul prays for the Colossian Jesus-followers. This has been called “intercessory prayer.” To “intercede” means: to come between.

The word “intersection” is helpful here. The intersection of Telegraph Road and M-50 is one mile north of our church building. If a person’s car stalls in the middle of this intersection, will their car be on Telegraph Road, or on M-50? The answer is: both. This is because, in this intersection, the properties of Telegraph Road and the properties of M-50 are shared, or are the same.

Set theory, in mathematics, illustrates this. Imagine two sets representing realms of experience: Set A (the realm of God), and Set B (earthly reality). Set A equals the being of God; viz., all God’s attributes, God’s desires (God’s will), and God’s character. Set B equals the Colossian Jesus-followers (and, by extension, Jesus-followers today).

Now imagine that these two sets overlap, or intersect. Intercessory praying happens at the intersection of God’s reality and my reality. In Colossians 1: 9, Paul kneels at the intersection of A and B, the place where heaven intersects with earth. In that place he asks God to bring heaven to bear on the earthly existence of the people he is interceding for.

Praying people are “intercessors,” kneeling before God in the place where heaven intersects with earth, where God interacts with humanity.

Piippo, John. Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (Kindle Locations 1114-1137). WestBow Press. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Two-Step Leadership (The Presence-Driven Church)

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I bought these flowers for Linda on Mother's Day.

The Presence-Driven Leader does not know where they are going. For the most part. This is because they are being led, by God's Spirit.

The Presence-Driven Leader has a long-term strategy, for themselves and for their people. It is simple: abide in Christ. Dwell in God's presence. Resolve to know only one thing: Christ, and him crucified.

Out of the abiding relationship comes The Call. This is a call to follow. The Presence-Driven Leader is the consummate follower.

Presence-Driven Leadership is Two-Step Leadership.
  • Step 1 is: Abide in Jesus.
  • Step 2 is: follow Jesus.
That's it.

In Hebrews 11:8 we read that Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going. Oswald Chambers comments:

"Have you ever “gone out” in this way? If so, there is no logical answer possible when anyone asks you what you are doing. One of the most difficult questions to answer in Christian work is, “What do you expect to do?” You don’t know what you are going to do. The only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing." (Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

Linda and I had never been to Israel. One day the opportunity was provided, as a gift. When we arrived we immediately got on a bus, and headed north from Tel Aviv to Mount Carmel. We had an excellent tour guide in the great Bible scholar Hal Ronning. Hal knew the land, we did not. Hal led us. We followed, willingly.

Presence-Driven Leaders lead by following. This is more like adventure, a redemptive expedition, a clash of kingdom civilizations, led by the One who holds the future in his hands.


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



I'm teaching a five-month class on prayer, beginning Sat., Jan. 7, at Redeemer.

I'm currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church.