Friday, November 29, 2019

God's Address

(Detroit Public Library)

Fifty years ago I came to what seemed like the end of myself. I hit rock-bottom (I'm sure I could have descended lower). My life was all failure and dysfunction. 

In my desperation I called out to God. He came to my rescue.

I found Him. 

When asked how we find God, Dallas Willard often said, “God’s address is” (In Gary Moon, Becoming Dallas Willard, p. 7)

If you are at the end of your rope, turn to God.

If this is you, and you live in the Monroe area, come to Redeemer this Sunday morning and you'll find Him. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Mr. Rogers' Last Words

(Somewhere in Michigan)

Before he broadcast each episode of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" to millions of children, Fred Rogers would recite a short prayer.
"Let some word that is heard be thine," he prayed. (From here.)
Rogers said his Christian faith was as fundamental to him as DNA.
"He saw the potential in every human encounter for something holy to happen, and he saw that as the work of the Holy Spirit. He often told a story about going to hear a famous preacher, but a substitute was there instead, and Rogers didn't think the sermon was very good. But the person he was sitting next to said it had been just what she needed to hear. He realized in that moment that he could trust that if he was offering his television show in good faith, then whatever shortcomings he had, the Holy Spirit would do the work necessary so that people could receive the grace they needed." (Ib.)
"His last words are pretty haunting. He asked his wife if he was a "sheep," referring to the Last Judgment in the Bible, when Jesus separates the good sheep from the bad goats." (Ib.)
Mr. Rogers was friends with, and influenced by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen said the core question of life is Who do you belong to? Rogers' last words, a question, can be rephrased: Do I belong to Jesus? For Mr. Rogers, Henri Nouwen, and me, this is what is truly important. And the answer is: Yes.

See Mr. Rogers' contribution on his friendship with Henri Nouwen in Nouwen Then.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Co-working with Christ

(Sterling State Park, Monroe)

Describing the nature of pastoral ministry, Thomas Oden sums up what is true of all forms of ministry: 

"The working minister is in a co-working ministry day after day with Christ's own ministry.... This is the centerpiece of care of souls: Jesus the overshepherd of our shepherding.... It is not what the pastor is out there doing that counts, but what Christ is doing through the pastor." (In Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service, Kindle Locations 181-183)

Don't do things and baptize them later with prayer. Instead, meet with Jesus, and join in what he is building.

My primary task, this morning, and always, is to stay connected with Christ. Christ in me, through me, with me, beside me, ahead of me, involving me, shepherding me.

I am a co-worker with God. People are God’s cultivated garden, the house he is building. (1 Cor. 3:9)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Marriage vs. Living Together: What's the Difference?

(Monroe County)

In this week's Time magazine there's a little article citing the benefits of marriage over living together. 

"More People Think It's Fine for Unwed Couples to Live Together. Here's Why Many Still Think Marriage Is Better."

Here are the points.

  • Two-thirds of the married individuals trusted their partners to tell them the truth; only half of the unmarried did. 
  • About three-quarters of married folks trusted their partner to act in their best interest; fewer than 60% of the unmarried felt the same way. 
  • And while 56% of married partners believed their partners could be trusted to handle money responsibly, only 40% of cohabiters felt the same way.
  • Married couples were more satisfied with the way their partners handled most of the usual couple chafing points: parenting, chores, work-life balance and communication.
  • Research suggests that the commonly expressed view that people should live together to test the relationship is ill-founded. Over seven published studies, we’ve found that living together before you’re engaged is just riskier.
  • If it’s commitment you’re looking for, being married is a pair of hiking boots and living together is a pair of stilettos. Both can get you where you want to be, but only one is designed with that in mind.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

If You Really Want to Know Jesus...

I'm a follower of Jesus. Since 1970.

When I got rescued by Jesus I experienced a great desire to know my Rescuer. I began to study Jesus. 

I have read and studied the Text over and over. One of my doctoral qualifying exams at Northwestern University was in ancient Christology. I have a library of books on Jesus. At Redeemer I and others preached through the four Gospels - it took seven years. Seven years of deep, focused, Jesus studying and experiencing!

I have a "Che Jesus" t-shirt. Here it is.

I wore this t-shirt a few times when teaching my philosophy classes at Monroe County Community College. One professor saw me, and told another professor, "Piippo is wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt." The other professor corrected him. "Piippo is actually wearing a Jesus t-shirt."

The Real Jesus is, among other things, a temple-cleansing, idol-smashing revolutionary.

A leader is one who has followers. Therefore, Jesus is the greatest leader in all human history.

I have been on a Real-Jesus-knowing rampage for almost fifty years. Do you want to know him, too?

Dallas Willard writes:

"If you really want to know Christ now, you have somehow to set aside the cloud of images and impressions that rule the popular as well as the academic mind, Christian and non-Christian alike. You must try to think of him as an actual human being in a peculiar human context who actually has had the real historical effects he did, up to the present. You have to take him out of the category of religious artifacts and holy holograms that dominate presentations of him in the modern world and see him as a man among men, who moved human history as none other. You must not begin with all of the religious paraphernalia that has gathered around him or with the idea that his greatness must be an illusion generated by an overlay from superstitious and ambitious people—mainly that “shyster” Paul—who wanted to achieve power for their own purposes. 

Just look at his teaching and his influence for what it has been through the ages—there is really no secret about that—and be clear-minded and fair in your estimate of what kind of person could have brought such teachings and influence upon human life." (Willard, Knowing Christ Today, p. 67)

Monday, November 18, 2019

Silence Before God Is Different Than Entertainment In the Church (The Presence-Driven Church)

Button bush, Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio

"Silence is the discipline that helps us go beyond the entertainment quality of our lives."

Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing, p. 49

Years ago I taught a course on prayer in the D. Min. program at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. One of my students was an African American leader and pastor in Chicago, named Joe. I remember the first day of class. When the students arrived we did a few introductions. Then I sent them out to pray for an hour, using Psalm 23 as their meditative focus.

When they returned from class I asked, "How was that for you?" Joe was crying. He said, "I haven't prayed for an hour in 20 years."

Jump ahead four years. I'm teaching the same class, in the same place. When the D.Min. students arrived, there was Joe. I asked, "What are you doing here? You've already taken this class!"

Joe said, "I wanted to take it a second time. There is still so much for me to learn."

Joe is the only student who has taken my class twice. I asked how he was doing, and how his church was going. Joe shared this. 

"After that class four years ago I went back to my people and preached on a Sunday morning on Psalm 46:10 - 'Be still, and know that I am God.'"

"What happened?" I asked.

"I simply read the verse, then sat down. There was silence for 40 minutes. Finally, one person stood up and spoke a word from God. Then another did the same. We just stayed there, silently, in the thick presence of God. Gradually, one by one, people began to leave."

"How was it, Joe?"

"It was... electric!"

Wow! Joe has a hopping, dynamic church. What a radical idea God gave him. This story confirmed a number of things I believe about pastoral ministry, and the nature of the church.

  1. This kingdom of God is about God's presence, in which God rules and reigns.
  2. Therefore, desire God's presence.
  3. Dismiss the idea that we need to entertain our people, that what they need is more entertainment so they'll stay with us.
  4. What our people most need is God.
  5. Cultivate a Presence-Driven environment that moves with and responds to God's presence.
  6. Usher people into God's presence. Here is where the "audience" dissolves, and engagement with God begins.

My first two books are...

Praying: Reflection on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

How God Changes the Human Heart: A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Congratulations to Connie Goncin on Her First Book!

Journey to Eden: From the Pit to the Palace by [Goncin, Connie]

Connie Goncin, who is part of our Redeemer family, has published her first book. Congratulations Connie!

It's called Journey to Eden: From the Pit to the Palace. It's Connie's testimony of how God rescued her out of darkness and brought her into God's beautiful kingdom.

I've heard Connie give her testimony before. It's compelling and moving. I'm thankful she has now captured her story in her book.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Should We Worry About the Sexual Behavior of Others?

(Holland State Park - Michigan)

Someone reacted to my blog post on homosexuality, shellfish, and wearing garments with two types of fabrics. They wrote: "Are we not yet at a point where we can just worry about our own sex lives, and let others worry about theirs?"

I wrote back and told them this comment was irrelevant to my blog post. It's a red herring.

But, I've heard this before, so now I'll address it.

This is a bad idea. We should hope we never get to that point, lest we enter the world of the handmaid's tale, which is very, very worried about the sexual behavior of others.

Let's call "worry," as used here, moral concern. And, if you are religious, call it also spiritual concern.

If we just let others worry about their own sex lives, and just worry about our own sex lives, and presumably not interfere in the sexual choices of other people, and not call some behaviors morally wrong, then we close our eyes to people who like to traffic women for sex and money, to people who like to rape children, to people who like engaging in incestual sexual relations, to people who like have multiple marital partners, to sexual harassment, to marriage-breaking adulterous affairs, and more. Even the atheist Richard Dawkins worries about this. (See here.)

Take polygamy. It's illegal in all fifty states. Apparently, we've not left polygamists to worry about fulfilling their desire to have multiple marital partners.

Take rape. Some people like to rape. Why not leave rapists alone to worry about their own sexual lives, and just worry about our own sexual lives?

Why not let Roman Catholic priests rape innocent children? Apparently they like doing this, after all. Why worry about their sexual behavior?

Why not forget about the Harvey Weinsteins and Jeffrey Epsteins of the world? They enjoyed their sexual behaviors. Who are we to stop their fun? Perhaps we should just mind our own business and leave them alone.

A civil state should care deeply about the sexual behavior of people. You should worry if your child's teacher is a sexual predator. You should get involved. 

To engage in the discussion is important. It's deep, involving religious, philosophical, and legal issues. It has to do with worldviews that are deep structures within every human being, while being almost entirely unexamined. Perhaps, contrary to Socrates, the unexamined life is worth living when it comes to sex? 

My Views of Marriage Remain Unaffected by Ad Populum Reasoning

(Flowers, in our green room)
(I'm keeping this ball in play, refusing to bow before the thought police and their irrelevant ad populum fallacies.)

I still believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. Many people in the world still believe as I do. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by this. (See here, e.g.)

I have encountered no reason to believe otherwise. (Ad populum reasoning [opinion polls] are irrelevant in the establishment of true beliefs. Also, I'm not a utilitarian in ethics, which holds that right and wrong do not exist. I find Americans to be unexmined quasi-utilitarians, until they run into an objective moral value, in which case they switch to Kantian ethics, and sometimes even irreligious divine command theory.)

In this, I sometimes feel like the man in this quote from G. K. Chesterton.

A man with a definite belief always appears bizarre, 
because he does not change with the world; 
he has climbed into a fixed star 
and the earth whizzes below him like a zoetrope. 
Millions of mild black coated men call themselves 
sane and sensible merely because 
they always catch the fashionable insanity, 
because they are hurried into madness after madness 
by the maelstrom of the world.

If you disagree with me, does this mean I hate you? Of course not. (See here.)

If I love you, does this mean I affirm all your beliefs? Of course not. (See here.)

Is civil discourse on the meaning of marriage possible? Of course. (See here.)

To enter the discussion here are some resources I am familiar with. (Note how cordial Maggie Gallagher and John Corvino are towards each other.)

If God leads you to support what I am doing you may donate to our church's general fund by going here. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Atheists Agree the Decline of Christianity Is Hurting Society


The atheist philosopher Marcello Pera thinks so. So does philosopher Jurgen Habermas. And now, apparently, so does Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins, while still an atheist, has said the decline of Christianity (in the West) has resulted in an increase in amorality and immorality. This is bad. It gives Dawkins great concern.

Christians, and moralists, take note. If Christianity diminishes, our world will be Mad Max in the Thunderdome.

Read "Atheists Sound the Alarm: Decline of Christianity Is  Seriously Hurting Society."

Dawkins says ending religion would "give people a license to do really bad things." Of course.

“Whether irrational or not, it does, unfortunately, seem plausible that, if somebody sincerely believes God is watching his every move, he might be more likely to be good. I must say that I hate that idea. I want to believe that humans are better than that. I’d like to believe I’m honest whether anyone is watching or not."

My experience is more than this. When I converted to Christ a desire to please God was inside me. More than doing good because God is watching, I wanted to do good because I loved God. Dawkins seems to have never understood this distinction, or has understood it and finds it unbelievable.

Dawkins is saying he affirmation of God’s existence does benefit society. For example, Dawkins admitted, “It might bring the crime rate down.”

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

A Different Way to Do Church

For a different way to do church see my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

I'll be preaching and teaching on this in New Jersey, this coming weekend, at the Presence and Power Renewal Conference

And, it happens Sunday mornings at Redeemer Fellowship Church in Monroe, Michigan. 

Atheists Who Insist That Religion Is Peculiarly Malignant Are Stupid (Says Atheist John Gray)

(IHM, in Monroe)

Becoming a Christian has made many of us morally better. I know this has happened to me. I, like the apostle Paul, have not yet arrived at full Christlikeness. But Christ has made me a better person, morally and spiritually. 

This is what real Christianity accomplishes. It produces brokenness over moral failure, followed by repentance (going away from the attitudes and choices that led to moral failure), followed by transformation (the formation of Christ in us).

Real followers of Jesus grieve over their slanderous, hate-filled behavior. Because our Text states that Real Love is exemplified on the Cross, and bullet-pointed in passages like 1 Corinthians 13. (Which is, in my mind, the greatest word ever written about love.)

As far as I can tell atheism (as philosophical naturalism) provides no guidance here, except for exalting the mostly unrealized inference to the non-existence of objective moral values. 

So, it's not religion (esp. Christianity) that is the root cause of evil. It's atheism (non-belief) that best serves as an evil-allowing worldview since, on atheism, objective morality does not exist. And, atheism has its own vast history of perpetrating evil. (See atheist David Berlinski here, e.g.) Why not, since on atheism there is no moral metaphysical platform on which to stand. For a current example consider outspoken atheist, physicist, and sexual predator Lawrence Krauss - here, here, and, e.g., this article from Science magazine. Note the connection between atheist Krauss and Jeffrey Epstein. If Krauss were a Christian atheists would be crucifying him as an example of religious evil.)  

Atheist John Gray writes: "To insist that religion is peculiarly malignant is fanaticism, or mere stupidity."
- John Gray, reviewing Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of ReligionBy Alain de Botton

This is a nice review of de Botton's book. I am certain the following is true: "We can be sure the world's traditional religions will be alive and well when evangelical atheism is dead and long forgotten."

Sunday, November 03, 2019

The Modal Ontological Argument According to Plantinga

(Sterling State Park)

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article by Kenneth Himma is good on explaining the Modal Version of the Ontological Argument for God's Existence.. Here is Plantinga's OA for God's existence, via Himma.

Plantinga defines two properties: "maximal excellence" and "maximal greatness."

P1. A being is maximally excellent in a world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect in W.

P2. A being is maximally great in a world W if and only if it is maximally excellent in every possible world.

"Thus, maximal greatness entails existence in every possible world: since a being that is maximally great at W is omnipotent at every possible world and non-existent beings can't be omnipotent, it follows that a maximally great being exists in every logically possible world." If, then, a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world, to include our actual world.

Is it logically possible that a maximally great being exists in some possible world? Plantinga thinks so. To think this is not possible one would have to show that the concept of "maximally great being" is logically contradictory, like "square circle." Therefore, the concept of a "maximally great being" is logically possible; i.e., possibly instantiated. It follows, therefore, that a maximally great being (i.e., God) exists in every possible world.

Himma now formulates Plantinga' argument as follows:

1. The concept of a maximally great being is self-consistent.

2. If 1, then there is at least one logically possible world in which a maximally great being exists.

3. Therefore, there is at least one logically possible world in which a maximally great being exists.

4. If a maximally great being exists in one logically possible world, it exists in every logically possible world.

5. Therefore, a maximally great being (i.e., God) exists in every logically possible world.

As P2 affirms, maximal greatness entails existence in every possible world. If it is possible that such a being exists in one possible world, then it exists in every possible world. Since our world is a possible world, God exists in our world.

See Himma's entire essay for more, including objections.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

President Obama on the Judgmentalism of Wokeness

(Maple leaf, in my yard)

(See the New York Times, "Obama on Call-Out Culture: 'That's Not Activism.'")

Barack Obama has objected to "call-out culture" and "wokeness."

“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff,” Mr. Obama said. “You should get over that quickly.”
“The world is messy; there are ambiguities,” he continued. “People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids, and share certain things with you.”

Well thank you President Obama! Civil discourse is possible after all.

Obama objects to "cancel culture"; viz., "behavior that mostly plays out on the internet when someone has said or done something to which others object. That person is then condemned in a flurry of social media posts. Such people are often referred to as "canceled," a way of saying that many others (and perhaps the places at which they work) are fed up with them and will have no more to do with them."

Cancel culture, as a manifestation of wokeness, is thinking you can bring change by being as judgmental as possible about other people, and that suffices. Obama said:

“Like, if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb,” he said, “then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, cause, ‘Man, you see how woke I was, I called you out.’”
Obama concluded: “That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”
Correct. Former President Obama is right about this. Hopefully, some are listening.