Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Most Compelling Argument for God's Existence

(Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio)

I taught philosophy of religion for eighteen years at Monroe County Community College (Monroe, Michigan). I taught the class in three sections:

I. Philosophical arguments for God's existence
II. Philosophical arguments against God's existence (especially the argument from evil)
III. The logic of atheism (Nietzsche and Russell); the logic of theism (e.g., Plantinga); and the Moral Argument for God's Existence.

I opened the class by teaching them Anselm's version of the Ontological Argument for God's Existence. Which goes like this:
1. I have an idea of a being a greater than which cannot be thought.
2. Therefore, God exists.

I loved teaching this argument! And loved the look on students' faces as they tried to comprehend it.

Sometimes (but not often, since it's so abstract) I followed up with the Modal Version of the Ontological Argument, which goes like this:

1. It is possible that a necessarily existing being exists.
2. Therefore, God exists.

The most interesting argument, for me, is the Moral Argument. One version goes like this:

1. If there is no God, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Is this a strong argument for God's existence? I think so. About this argument Alvin Plantinga says:

"I’m inclined to think the moral arguments the most compelling. I find it hard to see how there can be genuine moral obligation apart from a divine command. And since I think there really is genuine moral obligation— I’m wholeheartedly committed to that— that seems to me to be an argument with a very strong premise and a pretty good connection between premise and conclusion."
(L. Walls and Trent Dougherty. Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God (Kindle Locations 11322-11324). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.)

Churches - Nurture Your Strangeness

Image result for john piippo weird
Monroe

This morning at Redeemer we experienced an open heaven. One thing that happened was a number of our people sought God for prophetic words of encouragement to give to people who came forward. What a beautiful sight this was! But was it cool? That's the wrong word.

Jesus (the Real One) didn't have a coolness factor. Jesus wasn't trying to be hip, dope, or whatever the word is at the moment. 

Jesus didn't come to be relevant. For more on this see Os Guinness, Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance

Jesus was different. Distinct. It is Jesus' difference and distinction that captivated people. ("Nietzsche saw that independent thinkers would always be out of step with the conventional wisdom of their generation." Guinness, 19)

Jesus's beautiful humanity was weird. 

Jesus didn't fit in with the prevailing religious and political regime. Jesus was, as Michael McClymond indicates in the title of his book, a "familiar stranger." 

Jesus' strangeness, when lifted up, draws people. Russell Moore, in "Why Your Church Needs to Listen to the Culture," writes that relevant-hip churches are boring young people to death. If we listened to culture we would see this, and give up trying to make Jesus everyone's homeboy. 

Moore reflects on his own church experience with youth:

"The “unchurched” kids laughed at the Bible studies based on television shows or songs of the moment. They weren’t impressed at all by the video clips provided by my denomination’s publisher, or by the knockoff Christian boy bands crooning about the hotness of sexual purity. What riveted their attention wasn’t what was “relatable” to them, but what wasn’t. They were drawn not to our sameness but to our strangeness." (Emphasis mine.) 

Moore describes one teen who asked him, "Do you really believe this dead guy came back to life?" "Yes," Moore responded, "I do." The kid blinked and then whispered, "Dude, that's crazy." Yes it is. It is crazy. The kid stayed around to listen to more about this.

I don't know if Moore has read Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, but they sound the same. Moore writes: "Jesus didn't hide the oddity of the culture of the kingdom, and neither should we." 

At Redeemer I once preached a year-and-a-half project through the book of Revelation. Missing from my bucket list was to try to make Revelation normal. If it was normal, no one would be interested. Revelation is bizarre. It should be, to all who acknowledge that there is a God in heaven and, ipso facto, his ways are not our ways. We are talking about another reality intersecting and interacting with our unredeemed planet. This other, heavenly reality has to look different!

If you are a pastor or church I now free you, in Jesus' name, from sameness, and release you to difference. Our distinctives will differentiate us from American culture, presenting themselves as a clear option for those looking for redemption.

Moore writes:

"Let’s listen to what our culture is saying, hearing beneath the veneer of cool the fear of a people who know that Judgment day is coming because it’s written in their hearts (Romans 2:15–16). Let’s listen beneath the cynicism to the longings there, expressed in the culture, longings that can only be fulfilled in the reign of a Nazarene carpenter-king. Let’s deconstruct what they — and we — tell ourselves when it’s nonsense. But let’s not stop there. Let’s run toward, and not away from, the strangeness of an old gospel of a Messiah who was run out of his own hometown, but who, oddly enough, walked out of his own graveyard. For real."

***
My two books are:
Leading the Presence-Driven Church
Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I'm now working on...
Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart 
Technology and Spiritual Formation
When all this settles, Linda and I intend on writing our book on Relationships.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Holy Spirit Declarations - Preparing the Soil for Revival

Image result for john piippo true
Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan

Tomorrow morning at Redeemer I am preaching on Revival and an Open Heaven.

Here are some declarations to prepare you for what God is going to do tomorrow.

And, if you don't meet with my church family, why not declare these things over your church family?

***

Whatever is true,
whatever is noble,
whatever is right,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable,
whatever is excellent,
whatever is worthy of praise,
think on these things.
Philippians 4:8



HOLY SPIRIT DECLARATIONS
  • God is revealing deep things about himself to me. (1 Cor. 2:10)

  • The Holy Spirit is explaining spiritual realities to me. (1 Cor. 2:13)

  • I am experiencing an outpouring of revelation knowledge. (1 Cor. 2:13)

  • The Holy Spirit has made his permanent home in our church. (1 Cor. 3:16)

  • The Holy Spirit is making my heart into his home. (Rom. 8:11)

  • I have become God’s inner sanctuary.

  • The Holy Spirit is giving life to my physical body.

  • Every day I am opening spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit is giving me to encourage and comfort those around me. (1 Cor. 12:11)

  • I am an equipped, competent, life-giving minister of God’s new covenant of love and power. (2 Cor. 3:6)

  • Every moment of my life the Holy Spirit is calling out to me that I am God’s true child, and God is my true Father. (Gal. 4:6)

  • I am moved by the Holy Spirit. I move with the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 8:14)

  • I am soaring above the domination of the law and experience the full freedom of the Spirit of grace. (Gal. 5:18)

  • The Holy Spirit whispers into my innermost being, telling me I am God’s beloved child.” (Rom. 8:16)

  • The Holy Spirit’s intense cravings are overpowering any sinful cravings I am tempted by. (Gal. 5:17)

  • The Holy Spirit is strengthening me in my weakness. (Rom. 8:26)

  • The Holy Spirit, who knows my deepest longings, is bringing my life into perfect harmony with God’s plan. (Rom. 8:26-27)

  • What the Holy Spirit is doing in me is better than anything I could have ever thought or imagined. (Rom. 8:28)

  • The Holy Spirit is unveiling within me the unlimited riches of God’s glory. Supernatural strength is flooding my innermost being with God’s divine might and power. (Eph. 3:16)



My Sermons Online

Redeemer Church, in Monroe

My sermons @ Redeemer can be listened to HERE.  

Plus Tim Curry's sermons, and recent sermons by Karen Reaume and Alan Willingham.


Friday, December 13, 2019

Did Jesus Actually Exist?

Door, in Jerusalem

Today I heard someone in our Monroe community make the claim that there's no evidence that the Jesus of the four gospels actually existed, and that the "Jesus" presented there is a myth. I think that view is false.

Perhaps the best explanation of and refutation of "the legendary Jesus theory" is Paul Eddy and Greg Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus. While the whole book needs to be read, here's a summary of reasons why the synoptic Jesus tradition can be considered reliable.

  1. "The general religious environment of first-century Jewish Palestine would not have provided a natural environment for birthing a legend/myth centered around a recent, Torah-trumping, cruciform-messianic God-man." (452)
  2. Core "countercultural and embarrassing features of the Jesus story provide further evidence against the Synoptic portrait(s) being significantly legendary." (Ib.)
  3. "The claims that Jesus's identity was inextricably bound up with that of Yahweh-God and that he should receive worship, the notion of a crucified messiah, the concept of an individual resurrection, the dullness of the disciples, the unsavory crowd Jesus attracted, and a number of other embarrassing aspects of the Jesus tradition are difficult to explain on the assumption that this story is substantially legendary." (Ib.)
  4. "The fact that this story originated and was accepted while Jesus's mother, brothers, and original disciples (to say nothing of Jesus's opponents) were still alive renders the legendary explanation all he more plausible. In our view, it is hard to understand how this story came about in this environment, in such a short span of time, unless it is substantilly rooted in history." (Ib. See also Richard Bauckham's excellent Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.)
  5. "Attempts to argue against the historicity of the Jesus tradition on the basis of the alleged silence of Paul or ancient secular writers have not been forceful." (Ib.)
  6. "Much of what we have learned about oral traditions in orally dominant cultures over the last several decades gives us compelling reasons to accept the earliest traditions about Jesus as having been transmitted in a historically reliable fashion." (Ib.)
  7. "The Synoptics themselves give us plausible grounds for accepting that the basic portrait(s) of Jesus they communicate is substantially rooted in history. Yes they are "biased," but no more so than many other ancient or modern historical writers whom we typically trust." (Ib., 453)

Eddy and Boyd conclude: "Where does all this leave us? We suggest that these lines of evidence, viewed from the standpoint of an "open" historical-critical method, provide reasonable grounds for the conviction that the portrait(s) of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels substantially is rooted in history. At the very least, this probability is greater than the probability of any competing hypothesis, which leads us, at minimum, to the conclusion that the a posteriori burden of proof should be born by those who claim the Synoptic Gospels are unreliable vis-a-vis their essential representations of Jesus." (Ib.)

That's a lot of quoting. It's Eddy and Boyd's summary of their book. Read the whole thing to see these bullet points reasoned for and filled out.

(On the historicity of the four gospels, see Craig Keener's new book, Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels.)

Preachers - Ignore What the Public Wants

Tipp City, Ohio

"A man who first tried to guess 'what the public wants', and then preached that as Christianity because the public wants it, would be a pretty mixture of a fool and a knave." (Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, p. 120)

To preach what the public wants - that's the Consumer Church. The Audience Church.

The alternative is to discern what God is saying, and cooperate with the activity of God and preach accordingly. This will be what the people need. They need to hear, as does the preacher, from God. At Redeemer, and your church too (?), many want this. Their wants gladly align with God's activity.


Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Value of a Well-Formed Heart

Henri Nouwen writes:

"What is the value of well-trained and well-informed Christians and spiritual leaders when their hearts remain ignorant? What is the value of great theological erudition or great pastoral adeptness or intense but fleeting mystical experience or social activism when there is not a well-formed heart to guide a well-formed life?" (Nouwen, Henri J. M.; Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit; K 177)


These are rhetorical questions. The correct answer is: "None." Or, perhaps: "Little."

In the Jesus-life the heart comes before the head. Apart from a heart connected to Jesus, our theologizing will be inauthentic.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Why Doesn't God Heal Everybody? Some Thoughts.

Image result for john piippo green lake
Green Lake Chrsitian Conference Center, Wisconsin

(I'm re-posting this for a friend.)

My grandmother was healed of cancer. 

She lived with us six months out of every year when we were growing up. When she was in her mid-80s Grandma 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 saw and physically felt the hard tumors growing.


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 six months in our home, she went to live with my aunt and uncle in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. 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 believe it. Mom traveled 400 miles to visually inspect Grandma and confirm this.


Grandma lived for twelve more years. She bought two or three more dresses to be buried in. She died at age ninety-seven. 


What happened? How can we explain this? I, and my mother, concluded two things:


- Grandma once was cancer-filled, and then one day the cancer was gone.

- 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, and Craig Keener's magisterial Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. .) 


I’ve also been part of praying for people with illnesses whose illnesses have not gone away. Which raises the question: Why? Why do we not see everyone healed when we pray for them? I’ve thought long and hard about this over the years. I not only don’t have all the answers, I don’t think I can, given my quite-limited point of view, 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. Some diseases are caused by demonic forces. For example, Jesus sometimes heals a person by casting out a demon that is the cause of a person’s illness.
5. Some diseases are caused by our own choices. For example, the chain smoker who contracts lung cancer.


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. When people choose against God this results in suffering, even illness. (This is the Free Will Defense. See, e.g., Alvin Plantinga.)


From God’s perspective, giving created agents free will is worth it, since God is love, and love is the highest value for God. Hence, much of this world’s suffering happens because of this.

As a pastor I’ve been around a lot of death and dying, to include my own family, even my baby son David. How do I continue to find hope in all of this? Here are some thoughts.


1. Understand what Jesus taught about the kingdom of God. 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. 


2. Be part of a faith community. This makes a huge difference for me. 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. 


3. Discern. 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 can be 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.


4. Don't blame 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.


5. 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. If you are my friend and you are sick I will never stop praying for your healing.

6. Live a Christ-abiding life. As James writes, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:6)


7. Be a skeptical theist. This does not mean be skeptical of God. It means: be skeptical of your own cognitive abilities to understand what God is doing. It is irrational to reason as follows:

1) I saw nothing happening when I prayed for someone.
2) Therefore, nothing happened. 

You can only go from 1 to 2 if you have epistemic (knowledge) access to the mind of our all-knowing God. (As an analogy: 1) I see no germs on this hypodermic needle. 2) Therefore, there are no germs on this hypodermic needle. We can all affirm the truth of 1. But none of us can see germs. Thus, we cannot go from 1 to 2. See "Skeptical Theism.")



Here are some resources I am drawing on.

BOOKS

John Wimber, Power Healing
Francis MacNutt, Healing
Randy Clark, Authority to Heal
Candy Gunther Brown, Testing Prayer
Michael Brown, Authentic Fire

SOME BLOG POSTS










(On my blog use the search engine for more.)

***




I'm working on #s 3 and 4 - hopefully out in 2019:

How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation)


Technology and Spiritual Formation


Overcoming Worry: A Few Thoughts

\
(Monroe county)
The Bible App's most popular verse in 2019 is Philippians 4:6:

“Don’t worry about anything; 
instead, pray about everything. 
Tell God what you need, 
and thank him for all he has done.”


Here are a few thoughts about worrying, and how to overcome worry.

Of all the things I have worried about in my life, I estimate that less than 5% of them have come to pass. I have spent a lot of time worrying about things that came to nothing.

Worry, anxiety, fear… I’ve experienced them all, as you have too. What sort of person would not worry? One answer is: someone who’s had their brain removed. But then, of course, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy their worry-free life.

How is it possible to have the brains we have and move into greater freedom from worry? The answer Jesus gives is this: a person who trusts in God would not worry.

“Trust” and “worry” do not go together. Jesus speaks about this in Matthew 6:25-34. Slow down and re-listen to these words.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So... 

1. We don't need to worry about life’s basic things. Why not? Because if we live our lives trusting in God, God considers us more important than the birds of the air, who are provided for. (But what about some who trust in God but are not provided for? Concern for those Jesus calls "the least of these" should lead to action. See here, here, here, and here.)

2. Worrying about something adds nothing to our lives. I’ve read studies that claim worrying subtracts from the days of one’s life. Worrying is non-productive. Worry, anxiety, and fear immobilize and lead to non-action. Worrying makes worrisome situations worse. 

3. Trusting in God will lead to basic needs being provided. We must distinguish between basic needs, and personal wants and desires. I have found myself, at times, worrying about something that I don’t even really need. This is a waste of emotional time and energy.

4. Material things are not a cure for worry. Acquisition can promote worry.  Richard Foster, in A Celebration of Discipline, argues that the more material things a person has, the more things they have to worry about. Dr. David Augsburger wrote a brilliant study showing how some cultures who have little materially do not have a lexical entry for “anxiety,” because the condition seems nonexistent. I have found that when I am thankful for what I have, rather than needing to have more things to be thankful for, I am more at peace in myself.

“Worry” is the tip of an iceberg. Melt off the tip, and more surfaces. To get rid of the tip, get rid of the entire iceberg. Spiritually, this is about our heart. I am asking God to heal my heart that is still too consumed with the cares of this world. Only then can He use me to help others with their cares and concerns. The more self-obsessive I am the less good I am to others.

Here are some things to get help and healing from worry.

- Keep a spiritual journal. Write down your fears and worries, and give them to God. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.”

- Re-read your journal periodically. Remembering how God has been there with you in the past gives real hope for the present.

- Saturate your heart, soul, and mind with God-things. Do not let the media’s disasters fill your heart. A fair portion of media fears never materialize. Remember, e.g., Y2K. I have found that when I make it my first priority to fill heart and mind with God-things I gain an eternal perspective on world-things.

- Separate your real needs from your mere wants. Observe how our American materialistic culture works to create false needs within us that lead to false anxiety over a) either not having such things, or b) over having them and needing to care for them, protect them, store them, worship them, etc.

- Follow Jesus more intently and more intensely. Read Matthew 25 about what Jesus says in regard to helping the poor and needy. Take His words seriously and move towards others. As you begin doing this, you will find that your own cares and worries will dissipate.

-       Trust God. Trust is not an emotion, but an action. Trust in God and worry cannot coexist in the same human heart.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Is There Meaning to Life?

The Weakness of Skepticism

(Bolles Harbor, Monroe)

As an undergraduate in philosophy I studied Pyrrhonian skepticism. For example, Sextus Empiricus. I came to understand skepticism as the weakest, most facile, form of thinking. Really, any fool could be a skeptic.

The brilliant phenomenologist Dallas Willard felt the same way. He wrote: 

"We live in a culture that has, for centuries cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can almost be as stupid as a cabbage as long as you doubt." (Willard, Hearing God)

Monday, December 09, 2019

In Praise of Singleness

(Circle of prayer)
(I'm re-posting this to keep it in play.)

There is nothing wrong with you if you are not married. There may be a lot right with you.

When I became a Jesus-follower God told me to lay off trying to hustle women and take a full year off dating. I did. 

That was a wonderful year for me. I began to find out about what Colossians 1:18 calls "the supremacy of Christ." Christ was my "head," I was part of his "body," the body of Christ, his "Church." (Col. 1:18 again)

I felt free from cultural pressure to date. My life-goal was no longer to find a "soul mate," because my soul was mated to Christ. The great quest was to find Christ, to be found in him. I was beginning to understand this. I was allowing God to change me in ways that would be good for any future relationship I might be in.

If you are not dating, or not married, give thanks to God. You have a Pauline opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:8) to draw so very close to the only One who purely loves your soul. Take advantage of this, and rejoice!

If you feel pressure to date and mate ask yourself, where does this come from? I have seen Christian parents who lay pressure on their children to date and get married. Too many times the child ends up marrying anyone, just to please, at least unconsciously, their mother and father. This pressure is not from God. It creates the idolatrous idea that marriage is life's greatest thing. It is not. Like any false god, this will let you down.

I've seen a lot of "Christian" marriages that are toxic, not because of "irreconcilable differences" or "incompatibility," but because of spiritual and emotional immaturity. These marriages are particularly hellish because both partners are Christians. If you are not in a marriage like this, give thanks. You have been spared from a very dark existence. And, be thankful if you are not making babies with an adult baby.

Simply because a husband and wife are Christians does not guarantee their marriage will be wonderful. There is a ton of ongoing marital work to be done, and this never ends. Few people count the cost of marriage, and end up paying in ways they never imagined.

There's nothing wrong in desiring and praying for a life partner. There is something wrong with the idea that life will never be flourishing without one. Imagine how Christ feels about that!

(What if you are in a marriage that is screwed up? See my post - How to Save Your Failing Marriage.)