Thursday, August 31, 2017

God Delusion #13 - The Ontological Argument

Way back in 2006 I made close to fifty posts on Richard Dawkins's book The God Delusion. I mentioned the book tonight in my philosophy of religion class, in reference to Anselm's Ontological Argument for God's Existence. 

Here's what I posted in 2006.

Dawkins' handling of the Ontological Argument for the existence of God shows that he does not understand the argument. Even his response that comes from his misunderstanding is poorly written and logically incoherent.

Here, briefly, I will show that and how Dawkins seems not to have a clue about OA. 
And note: to show that Dawkins' criticism of OA fails miserably should not be construed 
as my arguing that OA proves there is a God. To really enter into the philosophical dialogue 
re. OA, begin here.

Then, go here.

Then, here.

Now, some thoughts on Dawkins and what he writes about OA.

He calls OA an "infantile argument." But Dawkins does not understand OA (as we shall see). 
And note: Dawkins is an emotivist who loves ad hominem abusives. Such abusive 
emotivism adds nothing to his "argument" against OA.

Dawkins quotes Bertrand Russell as once saying, "Great Scott, the OA is sound!" 
What Dawkins misses is precisely why Russell would think this.

Dawkins quotes philosopher Norman Malcolm as critical of OA. It is true that Malcolm 
agreed with Kant that "existence is not a predicate." But Malcolm himself put forth 
a version of OA which can be attributed to Anselm. Anselm, says Malcolm, had two 
versions of OA, the second of which puts forth "necessary existence" as defeating 
Kant's objection. Dawkins "quote mines" Malcolm for his own purposes, perhaps not 
realizing that Malcolm actually supports Anselm's second version of OA as proving the 
existence of God. 

But all of this is simply common knowledge to philosophers, of which Dawkins is presumably 

Dawkins cites Anselm's contemporary Gaunilo, who offered a criticism of Anselm's OA. 
Dawkins then cites the supposed refutation by Douglas Gasking, which is similar, says 
Dawkins, to Gaunilo's objection. Gasking's idea that a most perfect being would be even 
more perfect if it created a universe without itself existing is a non-logical possibility, 
like "square circle." This because Anselm argues that it is greater to exist in extramental 
reality than in the mind alone. "Existence," for Anselm, is a great-making property; thus, it is 
more perfect to exist than to not exist.

Gaunilo thinks Anselm believes we can just imagine a most perfect 
"anything" and that thereby that thing must exist. Such as, e.g., a "most perfect island." 
But of course "existence" is not an essential attribute of "most perfect island," but arguably 
it is of "a being a greater than which cannot be conceived." Both Gaunilo and Gasking miss
 the point of Anselm's argument. Kant understood Anselm; they do not.

Dawkins closes his "refutation" of OA with some "funny 'proofs'" of God's existence. 
But no matter how entertaining Dawkins is, these add nothing to his "argument" against OA.

Dawkins, in arguing against OA, has set up a straw man, knocked it down, 
as his colleagues stand in awe of just how "bright" people can really be without God.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

ONE-HOUR SEMINARY TONIGHT - Is Jesus the Only Way to God?


"Why I Believe Jesus Is the Only Way to God"

Presentation followed by Q&A

Tonight, August 29

9-10 PM EST

Facebook Live

God Has Not Given Us a Spirit of Fear (Sermon)

Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio

My sermon - "God Has Not Given Us a Spirit of Fear" - can be heard HERE.

My Powerpoint notes are included.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Let Go (of What?) and Let God (Do What?) - The Presence-Driven Church

Saugatuck, Michigan
A key to the presence-driven life and presence-driven leadership is, simply, let God lead, and follow. This is easy to understand, hard to do, counter-controlling, and rare to find. This is because so many cannot handle the uncertainty and unknowing that is required (faith and trust).

This is crucial, because unless the Lord leads, we are going in vain, building in vain, doing in vain, speaking in vain.

Let go and let God. "Let go"... of what? Control! "Let God"... do what? Lead! Get your hands off the wheel and let God steer the ship.

Thomas Merton understood this. he wrote:

"This is my big aim—to put everything else aside. I do not want to create merely for and by myself a new life and a new world, but I want God to create them in and through me. This is central and fundamental...   I must lead a new life and a new world must come into being. But not by my plans and my agitation. (Merton, A Year with Thomas Merton, Kindle Locations 4356-4359)

I am nearing completion of my coming book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Laptops and Texting Banned In My Classes

This fall I'm teaching one class in MCCC's Philosophy department: Philosophy of Religion. (I'm done teaching Logic after doing it for eighteen years.)

On my syllabus I put a skull and crossbones, with the words: No texting or laptops allowed in this class!

I am Bilbo Baggins, standing against the social media orcs. 

Most students do not know what to do if they cannot text while in class. This feels like a violation of their human rights. It's like I am cutting off body parts.

My response is: no one can learn philosophy as one of a multitude of ongoing tasks. In fact, no one can learn anything, to a deep degree, by multitasking. Multitasking is the enemy of all learning and all relationship.

Obsessive multitaskers are shallow people, hollow people. (See T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men.") Addicted to neural linking, they cannot go to the depths learning requires. (Call this omnimultitasking which, like the zika virus, produces tiny-headed offspring.) For example, no one can multitask Alvin Plantinga's modal version of the Ontological Argument for God's existence.

Nicholas Carr supports me here, nicely. He writes:

"A pair of Cornell researchers divided a class if students into two groups. One group was allowed to surf the Web while listening to a lecture. A log of their activity showed that they looked at sites related to the lecture's content but also visited unrelated sites, checked their e-mail, went shopping, watched videos, and did all the other things that people do online. The second group heard the identical lecture but had to keep their laptops shut. Immediately afterward, both groups took a test measuring how well they could recall the information from the lecture. The surfers, the researchers report, "performed significantly poorer on immediate measures of memory for the to-be-learned content." It didn't matter, moreover, whetrher they surfed information related to the lecture or completely unrelated content - they all performed poorly. When the reseachers repeated the experiment with another class, the results were the same." (Carr, The Shallows, Kindle, 2,236-43)

Blessed are the mono-taskers, for they shall see God. And, perhaps, learn some philosophy on the side.

Self-Denial & the Exorcizing of Pity Parties

Lake Michigan sunset

In Luke 9:23 Jesus tells us, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Self-denial is necessary to take up the cross and follow Jesus. It needs to be happen every day.

Self-denial involves deconstruction of negative aspects of the self. These are things like self-love, self-hatred, and self-pity. All are forms of self-obsession. The more self-obsession, the less following of Jesus there will be. Following Jesus is in inverse proportion to self-obsession.

Self-pity is one of the more punishing forms of self-obsession. Self-pity cannot coexist with spiritual renewal and transformation. 

In one of my seminary classes I was talking about holding “pity parties,” when a pastor named Samuel from Ghana asked, “What do you mean by “pity party?”” I said, “Samuel, the next time I host one for myself I’ll invite you.” Unfortunately, I could write an essay on How To Host Your Next Pity Party.

To be self-pitying is to live life as a victim. While it’s true that sometimes we are victims, there is a spirit of victimization (self-deprivation) that is to be distinguished from the real thing. It looks like this: "Poor me! They are not treating me right - and after all I've done for them!" Such is the self-pitying, angry person. 

In this regard Henri Nouwen asks, "What else is anger but the response to the sense of being deprived? Much of my own anger comes from the fact that my self feels deprived." When one chooses to express this anger by hosting a pity party, the self-obsession has begun.

In Tolstoy’s character Ivan Ilych we see one of the most brilliant literary depictions of self-pitying victimhood. Read closely. He writes: 

"What tormented Ivan Ilych most was the deception, the lie, which for some reason they all accepted, that he was not dying but was simply ill, and he only need keep quiet and undergo a treatment and then something very good would result… The awful, terrible act of his dying was, he could see, reduced by those about him to the level of a casual, unpleasant, and almost indecorous incident (as if someone entered a drawing room defusing an unpleasant odour) and this was done by that very decorum which he had served all his life long. He saw that no one felt for him, because no one even wished to grasp his position… [W]hat most tormented Ivan Ilych was that no one pitied him as he wished to be pitied. At certain moments after prolonged suffering he wished most of all (though he would have been ashamed to confess it) for someone to pity him as a sick child is pitied. He longed to be petted and comforted.” (Emphasis mine.)

Self-pity is in opposition to spiritual renewal and transformation of the heart.
Someone who holds “pity parties” refuses to take responsibility for their own behavior, and blames others. Self-pity leads to a “victim mentality.” Therefore, self-pity needs to be denied, because it keeps us from being fulfilled in Jesus. 

To experience renewal and transformation, be free from defending your own honor and reputation. Experience God as your Defender. Do this by being like a branch attached to Jesus the true Vine, gaining your sustenance from him. You will experience a joy, and a peace, unlike this world offers, that will exorcize self-obsession.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

My Philosophy of Religion Class at MCCC

Fisherman, on the river off my back yard.

Tonight I begin another Philosophy of Religion class at Monroe County Community College. I've stopped teaching logic (after seventeen years), and will enjoy backing off to one class.

This class excites me. I'm teaching material very familiar to me. My ongoing growth includes continuing study in this area.

I'll begin section one of the class, on Philosophical Arguments for the Existence of God. Tonight - the Ontological Argument for the Existence of God. I'll present Anselm's version, and may introduce students to the Modal Version of the Ontological Argument. Which is...

1. God is, by definition, a necessarily existent being.
2. A necessarily existing being is possible; i.e., it exists in some possible world, W.
3. Since it is true in W that this necessarily existing being exists, it is true in W that this being exists in every possible world.
4. The actual world is a possible world.
5. Therefore, a necessarily existing being exists in actuality.

Heads will be twisting tonight as I explain such things to my students. In this class I will teach students to think!

(For another version of the Modal Ontological Argument, see E.J. Lowe, "A Modal Version of the Ontological Argument," in Debating Christian Theism, Moreland, Meister, and Sweis, eds.) 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Why Do So Many Ministries Finish Poorly?

Downtown Monroe

Why do so many pastors, and ministries, finish poorly? Dallas Willard describes the sad process this way. (From The Great Omission, Kindle Location 1419. I'm mostly just quoting Willard - it's such good stuff.)

  • Intense devotion to God by the individual or group brings substantial outward success.
  • Outward success brings a sense of accomplishment.
  • Outward success brings a sense of responsibility for what has been achieved - and for further achievement.
  • For people looking on, the outward success is the whole thing.
  • The sense of accomplishment and responsibility reorients vision away from God, and onto what we are doing and are to do. This happens usually to the applause and support of sympathetic people.
  • The mission becomes the vision. It becomes what we are focused on.
  • The mission and ministry is what we spend our thoughts, feelings, and strength upon.
  • Goals occupy the place of the vision of God in our hearts. We find ourselves caught up in a visionless pursuit of various goals, to keep the thing going.
"This," writes Willard, "is the point at which service to Christ replaces love for Christ. The inward reality of love for God, and absorption in what He is doing, is no longer the center of the life, and may even become despised, or at least disregarded." (Ib.)

The effects of the initial fire of God are valued over the fire. "The fire of God in the human soul will always look foolish to those who like its effects but do not understand where those effects come from." (Ib.)
  • At this point a pervasive consciousness of one's rights and perks may set in.
  • The mission and its goals have replaced the original vision.
  • The initial success of the movement has slowly replaced the treasure of Christ as the center of attention and devotion in their lives.
  • The fall is complete.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Difference Between "Christian" and "Follower of Jesus"

The German mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege, in discussing his linguistic theory of sense and reference, showed how two different terms could have the same reference, but different senses. His famous example is "the morning star," and "the evening star." Both terms refer to the planet Venus. So, they have the same reference (denotation). But, they have different senses (connotation). (See here; scroll down to 3.2.)

The terms "Christian" and "follower of Jesus" used to have the same reference, with different connotations. Such is the case no longer.

At one time, "Christian" meant "follower of Jesus." "Follower of Jesus" was, perhaps, a subset of the broader category "Christian."

It was assumed, in the first century of Christendom, that if a person was a "Christian," then they followed the life and ways and teachings of Jesus. This is why Christians were martyred, like Jesus was. This is why Christians were peacemakers, and lovers of people, even their enemies. This is why Christians forgave one another, and why they served one another, since Christ came to serve, not to be served.

No longer is this the case.

Many self-refer as "Christian," but have little or no intention of actually following Jesus. I point out, e.g., that they must love other people, even their enemies, and that they must forgive others from the heart and not hold on to bitterness, and that they must not accept relationship division, since Jesus calls us to be reconcilers and peacemakers. Which means, to go after these things, behaviorally. Many, it appears to me, want the name, but not the cross.

Today, it is possible to think of oneself as a Christian, but not give Jesus the time of day. You can be a Christian and not follow Jesus. You can be a Christian but have no time to pray. You can be a Christian, while popping in and out of church. Your entire family can be a bunch of Christians, yet your hearts are won over by secular commitments.

Which means: "Christian," and "follower of Jesus," have neither the same sense, nor the same reference.

This is why we must abandon the word "Christian," and decide whether or not we will be disciples of Christ, people who hear Jesus' voice, and obey.

Real Followers of Jesus Are Peacemakers

Image may contain: cloud, sky, ocean, twilight, outdoor, water and nature
South Haven, Michigan
If you are in conflict with another brother or sister in Christ, this should not sit right with you. You should be troubled by this. If you are a follower of Jesus, you must do something about it.

You will not have peace with God if you are not working towards peace with others. The very peace Jesus promises to all who abide in him is not only for you. It is for the community of Jesus-followers you are in.

Henri Nouwen, in his beautiful book The Road to Peace, writes:

"In his farewell discourse Jesus said to his apostles, "Peace I leave to you, my peace I give to you; a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you" (John 14:27). When we want to make peace we first of all have to move away from the dwelling places of those who hate peace and enter into the house of him who offers us his peace. This entering into a new dwelling place is what prayer is all about." (9)

A peacemaker dwells, not in the house of fear and war, but in the house of peace. In Christ, there is peace. As I abide in Christ he gives me his peace, a peace that is different from this world's peace. I connect with him who is our peace. (Ephesians 2:14) How?

By praying. Praying is a main way of connecting to God. Have an actual praying life and receive the peace of God, as Jesus promised. "A peacemaker," writes Nouwen, "prays."

He continues: "Prayer is the beginning and the end, the source and the fruit, the core and the content, the basis and the goal for all peacemaking. I say this without apology, because it allows me to go straight to the heart of the matter, which is that peace is a divine gift, a gift we receive in prayer." (9, emphasis mine)

In some church communities the people do something called "passing the peace." They turn to people next to them, and say, "The peace of the Lord be with you." The peace of God is something for others. You have been freely given God's peace. So, freely give it away. Which means, make peace with others.

Jesus didn't give us the Beatitudes so we could posterize them. (Matthew 5) Real followers of Jesus live these things out. Division doesn't sit right with them. 

This is hard work. It is out of our comfort zones. Nearly everything Jesus calls us to do is out of our comfort zones. This is why peace-lovers are many, but peacemakers are few. 

If you follow Jesus, you will wage peace. You will then experience the blessing and favor of God, imparted like anointing oil, over you.

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

Psalm 133:1-3

Praying as Performative Ontology

The world of my back yard

One author I keep reading is Pentecostal Philosopher James K. A. Smith, who teaches at Calvin College. That's interesting in itself, right?

In Desiring the Kingdom, Smith writes the following about the practice of praying:

"The practice of prayer banks on God's exceeding our worship space, transcending the confines of space and time, and as the Creator of the universe, being interested and concerned about concrete realities that face us here in our finitude. Praying enacts an entire cosmology because implicit in the very act of prayer is an entire ontology and construal of the God-world relationship. This doesn't mean we need to pursue a doctorate in metaphysics in order to pray; on the contrary, the point is that by doing it, by praying, we are engaged in a sort of performative ontology that could be teased out in reflection and analysis." (p. 193. By "performative" Smith means in the sense of J.L. Austin in the latter's How to Do Things With Words. Performative utterances do things, and establish things. In this case, prayer performatively establishes a worldview.)

The act of praying posits, prethematically, a worldview (following Charles Taylor, a "social imaginary"). By "performative ontology," Smith means a "doing" that prereflectively assumes the truthfulness of Christian theism. Such truthfulness could, if one wanted, reflectively "tease out" the propositions that make up the Christian social imaginary. 

This prereflective social imaginary is prior to the kind of reflection done in apologetics or theology. A praying person just "knows" such a world to be real. A praying person is, from the point of view of today's secular social imaginary, in another world; as N.T. Wright says, at the intersection of heaven and earth.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Horizontal Church vs. Vertical Church (The Presence-Driven Church)

Image result for johnpiippo church
Preaching at Faith Bible Church in New York City (Flushing)

The Vertical Church is a people group of Jesus-followers who desire nothing more than God's earth-shattering presence, and who experience that presence whenever and wherever they gather. The presence of God is the glue that holds them together. This is the meaning of Jesus' words about "whenever two or more gather, there I am in their midst." That's all that's needed: Jesus in our midst.

The Horizontal Church needs more than "Jesus in our midst," even to the exclusion of Jesus, leaving only us and "our midst." Here people have been seduced by the god of relevancy. Many are good people who have been mis-discipled. They have been taught - by culture - to rely on their own natural charisma to attract consumer-seekers. Much energy and money is spent on catering to the prevailing cultural ethos and its chronos-mentality; hence, there are temporally choreographed services because people (it is assumed) will pull out their cell phones if the earth-shattering presence of God hovers among them for more than an hour. The Horizontal Church unwittingly adds to Scripture, and has Jesus saying, "whenever two or more gather, with a fair trade coffee bar and stage lighting and short services and apps and creative add-ons, there I am in their midst, if only for an hour."

Horizontal churches burn people out in striving to measure up to the ever-shifting bar of cultural coolness. Even name changes and stage lighting cannot rescue these sinking vessels. (Vertical Church is not essentially about external makeovers, not that serving coffee or tight blue jeans are evil.)

James McDonald of Harvest Church in Chicago writes:

"Eventually everyone vacates church where God is not obviously present and working. Getting people back to church is pointless unless God comes back first— that’s what Vertical Church is all about!
Ritual church, tradition church, felt-need church, emotional-hype church, rules church, Bible-boredom church, relevant church, and many other iterations are all horizontal substitutes for God come down, we all get rocked and radically altered, Vertical Church.
The problem is you can’t fake glory. You can’t manufacture it, or manipulate it, or manifest it at will. Only God Himself can bring glory into a church, and when He does, communities get shaken and lives get changed, and the fame of Jesus Christ curls continuously upon the shore of human hearts like a Hawaii 5-0 wave. Church is supposed to be a tsunami of glory every Sunday, and that is what we gather for." (MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be, Kindle Locations 104-105)

McDonald says, "In Vertical Church God shows up, and that changes everything."

I worked today on my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church, to be published hopefully before the Lord returns.

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Carrying a Promise With Me Today

I began today by reading out of Psalms and Proverbs.

I wrote Ps. 92:12-14 on a 3X5 card.

It's in my pocket, staying close to me today.

Monday, August 14, 2017

How God Changes the Human Heart (One-Hour Seminary)

Trust Is a Cure for Fear, Anxiety, and Worry

Image may contain: shoes, sky, beach, tree, outdoor and nature
I made it to the top of the big dune at Warren Dunes State Park (Michigan).
I bought a new chair for my home office. I had the previous chair for twenty years. I trusted it. I knew it would hold me. Therefore, I had no anxiety in regard to it.
It would be contradictory to say, "I trust the chair I'm sitting in, but am afraid it won't hold me."

Where there is trust, there is no fear. This is true with my office chair, it is also true with God. Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" The antidote to a fearful heart is to make God one's "fortress and strength," the result being, "what shall I then fear?"
We see the connection between trust and fearlessness throughout Scripture. 

Psalm 56:3 - Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.
Psalm 56:11 - In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (I "put" my trust in the Lord, like I "put" the water in the glass. Trust is an action. This is a very Hebraic idea.)

Psalm 112:7 - He will not be afraid of evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

Isaiah 12:2 - Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’”

Where there is trust, there is an absence of anxiety. The person who is mostly filled with anxiety and fear is the person who does not *trust, or whose trust is misplaced. 

How do I make God my trust?

Trust is an action we take. I “put my trust in the Lord.”

          If God was a chef, I would eat his cooking.

          If God was a shepherd, I would listen for his voice and follow.

          If God was a rock, I would stand on him.

          If God was a fortress, I would make my home in him.

          If God was a river, and I a tree, I would send my roots to him.

If God was a vine, and I a branch, I would attach myself to him.

If God was a fire, I would be consumed by him.

If God was water, I would drink of him.

If I was a cup, I would be filled to overflowing by him.

         If God was a hidden treasure, I would seek him.

If God was a word, I would read him.

If God was my Lord, I would obey him.

If God was a chair, I would sit on him.

I would do these things every day…  after day…  after day.

There is a cumulative effect that results from a lifetime of trusting in God. A psychological confidence, a certitude, emerges. It is like the confidence I got as a result of sitting in the same chair for twenty years, and finding that, through it all, it still holds. 

*I recognize that there are clinical, neurophysical conditions that cause anxiety and fear. The antidote for such conditions may be medications. But even when medications stabilize a person's emotions, issues of trust may remain. Medication will not help a person when the only chair they have keeps breaking.

I anticipate my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church to be out in a few months.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Saturday, August 12, 2017

If You're Racist, You're Not a Follower of Jesus

Image may contain: sky, cloud, ocean, twilight, outdoor, nature and water
South Haven, Michigan

Linda and I just returned home from a week away, celebrating 44 years of marriage.

I've been mostly disconnected from the news.

On the drive home we listened to the horrors and evil happening in Charlottesville, Virginia. Words fail to express how saddened and angry this makes me.

My anger is what the Bible calls "righteous anger." It's righteous, because the people doing this are, obviously, not followers of Jesus. You can't follow Jesus and be a racist.

Racism is evil, from the pit of hell, demonic. Racism is absolute darkness, and darkness has nothing to do with light.

"For God so loved the world..."

The world. All peoples. All races.

The hope of Israel was always intended to be for all the nations.

Racism is anti-God, anti-Christ. A racist is an antichrist. A racist is against Jesus. Anyone who claims to be a "Christian" and embraces racism is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a false prophet, possessed by a demon, ignorant of the Scriptures, or ignoring the Scriptures.

Real followers of Jesus understand this.

What color is God's skin? The question is nonsense, like "How long is blue?" God, being an immaterial Spirit, doesn't have skin.

When the skinless, colorless Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he inhabited skin darker than my Scandinavian flesh.

Self-Forgiveness and Inner Healing (Sermon)

Image may contain: sky, ocean, cloud, outdoor, water and nature
South Haven, Michigan

My sermon on self-forgiveness and inner healing is HERE.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Judgment Grows In the Soil of Forgetfulness

South Haven, Michigan

Today I am seeing how much I need to be preached to. Because I do not love like Christ loved. He had a pure heart of love; my heart is still being formed in love (Gal. 4:19).

I tend, too much, to react in judgment, than respond in love. I am asking God to rip this evil out of me.

Greg Boyd writes:  “Most Christians tend to walk more in judgment than they do in unconditional love… In so doing, we are forsaking the most fundamental job description God gave us: to love others as he has loved us.” (Greg Boyd, Repenting of Religion, 98) 

It is sobering to remember that "he has loved us" not because we were so ridiculously cute and lovable, but while we were against Him, while we were his enemies. Romans 5:10 says, "For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!"

How important is this? Paul wrote, "The whole law is summed up in a single commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." (Gal. 5:14-15)

I think we are all "hard to love" people, from our subhuman point of view. We think we're not like those "other people." Our tendency to judge others grows in the soil of forgetfulness. We have forgotten:

1) Who we were when Christ rescued us; and

2) that we are now on Jesus' rescue team, with love as our job description.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hearing God (PrayerLife)

Hearing God is to be part of the normal Christian life. Dallas Willard writes:

God has created us for intimate friendship with himself—both now and forever. This is the Christian viewpoint. It is made clear throughout the Bible, especially in passages such as Exodus 29:43-46 [God will meet with us], 33:11 [God spoke with Moses face to face, as one speaks with a friend]; Psalm 23 [God shepherds us]; Isaiah 41:8 [God is our friend]; John 15:14 [Christ is our friend] and Hebrews 13:5-6 [God will never leave us or forsake us; God is our helper]. As with all close personal relationships, God can be counted on to speak to each of us when and as it’s appropriate." (Willard, Hearing God, Kindle Locations 108-111)

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

Using Willard's book Hearing God, here's how to do it.

Focus on the God-Relationship

I suspect many would like to hear God speak to them for the sake of guidance. While this is one aspect of hearing God, it is far from the only aspect. Hearing God is richer and more textured than that. And, hearing God is just one aspect of the deeper, more inclusive Jesus-life.

Willard writes: "Hearing God is but one dimension of a richly interactive relationship, and obtaining guidance is but one aspect of hearing God." (Willard, Hearing God, K125)

Willard's strategy and counsel is to focus on cultivating the God-relationship, out of which hearing God will emerge as a byproduct. For example, it's our ongoing, sustained relationship that provides the environment for Linda and I to really hear and understand one another. When it comes to hearing and understanding God the same relational rules apply.

"Ultimately, we are to move beyond the question of hearing God and into a life greater than our own—that of the kingdom of God. Our concern for discerning God’s voice must be overwhelmed by and lost in our worship and adoration of him and in our delight with his creation and his provision for our whole life. Our aim in such a life is to identify all that we are and all that we do with God’s purposes in creating us and our world. Thus we learn how to do all things to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17). Learning the two-way communication between us and God will develop as a natural part of such a life." (Kindle Locations 81-86)

To learn to hear God don't focus on learning to hear God. Instead, focus on the most important thing, which is: "You are an unceasing spiritual being, created for an intimate and transforming friendship with the creative Community that is the Trinity. Learning to hear God is much more about becoming comfortable in a continuing conversation, and learning to constantly lean on the goodness and love of God, than it is about turning God into an ATM for advice, or treating the Bible as a crystal ball." (Kindle Locations 87-89)

Being Comes Before Doing

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

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

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

Love comes first, from which appropriate obedience emerges.

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

Abiding Includes Conversing

In his final conversation with his disciples Jesus told them that he and his Father "would come to them and make their home in them." (John 14:23) How weird it would be if God did this and never, ever talked with us, especially given the fact that God is an all-loving Person who loves us with an everlasting love. There may be persons in our home who despise us and never talk to us, but God, essentially, is not that kind of Person. 

"Certainly this abiding of the Son and the Father in the faithful heart involves conscious communication or conversation in a manner and a measure our Lord himself considers to be appropriate. It is simply beyond belief that two persons so intimately related... would not speak explicitly to one another. The Spirit who inhabits us is not mute, restricting himself to an occasional nudge, a hot flash, a brilliant image or a case of goose bumps." (Kindle Locations 331-334)

Connect with Jesus now.

Abide in Him.

Abiding includes conversing with God.

Our Motives Make a Difference

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

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

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

Love God with All Your Heart

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

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

The Precondition of Humility

A humble heart is a necessary condition for hearing God. Dallas Willard writes: Humility is a quality that opens the way for God to work because God resists the proud (1 Pet 5:5). (p. 52) 

Psalm 29:5 says, of God: He guides the humble in what is right  and teaches them his way. From this it follows that God does not guide the proud, for the reason that a proud heart is unguidable.

Willard writes:

"God will gladly give humility to us if, trusting and waiting on him to act, we refrain from pretending we are what we know we are not, from presuming a favorable position for ourselves and from pushing or trying to override the will of others. (This is a fail-safe recipe for humility. Try it for one month. Money-back guarantee if it doesn’t work.)" (Ib., pp. 52-53)

In my book Praying I have a chapter on Hearing God.