Friday, September 30, 2022

Reveal Yourself

Holly Collins recorded my song "Reveal Yourself." Linda and I sing backup vocals, and I do the guitar work.

This song is from the book of Amos.

He who forms the mountains,
    who creates the wind,
    and who reveals his thoughts to mankind,
who turns dawn to darkness,
    and treads on the heights of the earth
    the Lord God Almighty is his name.

Amos 4:13

(John Piippo)

He who forms the mountains
And creates the wind
Reveals His thoughts to man
Delivers us from sin

Who turns dawn to darkness
Walks high places of the earth
Holy is His name
His essence is unsearched

Reveal Yourself
Reveal Yourself
Come and show us what You've got
Things that are, things that are not
Yourself to me
Greater revelation
Greater revelation of Your glory

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Distinguishing Between Love and Desire

Monroe County

Dallas Willard, in Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge, writes: 

"Love means will-to-good, willing the benefit of what or who is loved. We may say we love chocolate cake, but we don't. Rather, we want to eat it. That is desire, not love. In our culture we have a great problem distinguishing between love and desire, but it is essential that we do so." (K 810-18)

I've met with persons who interpret their sexual desire for their significant other as love. They view their partner as a treat to be consumed, like a piece of chocolate cake. 

Willard writes: "Agape love, perhaps the greatest contribution of Christ to human civilization, wills the good of whatever it is directed upon. It does not wish to consume it." (Ib.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Did God Harden Pharaoh's Heart?

(Trees in my backyard)

The plagues God sent upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians were not merely for punishment, but also for redemption. God was trying to save Pharaoh and the Egyptians.

On first glance, it doesn't appear that way, given Exodus 10:20, which reads, "the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart." It appears Pharaoh didn't have a chance to repent.

But John Sanders points out that "the Hebrew word for "hardening" means "to strengthen," so hardening does not render a person unable to repent. This is easily seen by the fact that God hardens the hearts of Pharaoh's servants (Ex 10:1), yet they understand what God is doing and implore their master to release the Israelites (10:7)." (Sanders, What About Those Who Have Never Heard?: Three Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized, Kindle Locations 239-240)

God uses conditional language with Pharaoh, which implies Pharaoh has a choice. For example, Exodus 8:2: "If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs." The conditional word "if" makes no sense if Pharaoh was rendered incapable of making a choice.

For example, what if a professor had to power to harden your heart so you could not, and would not, complete your assignments. It would make no sense for the professor to say, "If you don't complete your assignments, you'll fail this course." It would make sense if you could choose to turn in your work.

Sanders concludes,

"Evidently the divine strengthening of Pharaoh did not override Pharaoh's decision-making powers. The plagues were for redemptive and not merely retributive purposes. Truly God has never delighted in the death of the wicked. Punishment came to the Egyptians, but not before God did all he could to bring redemption into the situation." (Ib., Kindle Locations 241-243)

Monday, September 26, 2022

Scientism - A Circular Abyss of Dark Unthinkingness

(Lady bug, in my house)

J. P. Moreland's book Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology is intelligent, funny, and pro-science, but not scientistic. The distinction is important.

"Scientism is the view that the hard sciences—like chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy—provide the only genuine knowledge of reality." (Moreland, Kindle Locations 271-272)

Have you ever had someone say to you, "I don't believe in religion any more. I believe that science explains everything." If so, you met a scientistic person, caught in a circular abyss of dark unthinkingness.

In my Logic classes I teach, among many other things, the nature of self-refuting statements. Examples are:

"There is no such thing as truth."

"All sentences are exactly three words long."

"I do not exist."

"This sentence is false."

Another is: "True knowledge is found only in science." This sentence is "self-referentially incoherent, meaning that it refutes or defeats itself." (Ib., K653)

J.P. says that not only is strong scientism false, but it is necessarily self-refuting. Scientism states, "Only what is testable by science can be true." 

The scientistic thinker may believe that "one day, science will prove that only what is testable by science can be true." But because this statement is necessarily self-refuting, "no further scientific discoveries could make the statement true." (Ib.)

J.P. writes:

"The irony is that strong scientism is a philosophical statement, expressing an epistemological viewpoint about science; it is not a statement of science, like “water is H2O” or “cats are mammals.” Strong scientism is a philosophical assertion that claims that philosophical assertions are neither true nor can be known; only scientific assertions can be true and known. 

Christians, therefore, should not be intellectually intimidated when they hear very smart people with advanced degrees sitting in positions of authority say things that are self-refuting." (Ib., Kindle Locations 702-706)

Freedom From Two Illusions

(Teaching in Eldoret, Kenya)

When I was teaching in Eldoret, Kenya, I told the Kenyan and Ugandan pastors that the #1 thing they need to do is stay connected with God. Abide in Christ. Dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. Send roots to the river of God. Live, 24/7, in the fortress of God. 
That's what you need to do. That's what your people need you to do. Because what they need is not you, but God. They need "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Dwell in God's presence, and he will free you of the illusion of your indispensability. 

I told these pastors that they are not needed by God. God is able to accomplish his purposes with or without them. Yes, God loves them and wants to use them. And God will, if they trust in him and abide in him.

We can't change other people. Only God can do that. I told the pastors: "Today you can let go of your striving to change other people."

Some told me how novel and freeing this was. I added, "But God can change you."

The change happens as we live connected to God. You cannot consistently nurture the "in Christ" relationship and remain unchanged. And, as you make God your Shepherd (in practice, not theory; viz., trust in him), he "restores your soul." So, you don't have to "work on your own self." Just step into God's presence, stay there, and the Restorer of Souls will strip away all that has covered over your soul to get to the original "in God's image," the psuche, which is you.

The changes God works in you will not be just for you, but for others. This is called influence. W
hat God works in you can, and will, influence other people, by God's Spirit.

Be free of two illusions:

  1. The illusion of your indispensability
  2. The illusion that you can change people
Focus on abiding in Christ. As he speaks, obey. This is the place of all authentic spiritual formation.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

When "Freedom" Goes Berserk (Freedom Is Not Anarchic)

(Free-range squirrel, on my back porch)
At Redeemer we love the word "freedom." I love this word! Jesus said, in John 8:32, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

The truth will set you free... from what? The answer is: from either oppressive rule, or no rule at all. Both are forms of bondage.

The latter form of bondage (no rule at all) is called "anarchy." A(n) - arche; literally, "no ruler." Think of nations where governments fall and, for a period of time, there is no rule. When you think "anarchy" think, e.g., of Somalia, or Syria. Who's in charge? Who is leading? When no one leads in a good and loving way, the people suffer. Anarchic situations are physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually brutal.

"Freedom" is essentially related to "rule" or structure. This is a mistake some Jesus-followers, especially young and immature ones, make. If they come from fundamentalist law-oriented families it is not uncommon to see them go berserk with new-found freedom. Or, to flirt with sin, as if they are "free" to do so, oblivious to the fact that sin is precisely the prison house they have been set free from. 

The pendulum swings from oppressive structure to equally oppressive non-structure. 

"I am free to do anything I want!" is the cry of the Christian "anarchist" who is seduced by the lie that freedom is the absence of structure. 

The truth is that freedom is always a function of structure, and there are structures that oppress and structures that liberate. And, there are plenty of religious structures that, in the name of Christ but not the truth of Christ, make people more miserable than when they were imprisoned in their sins. (Note: I am not talking about the kind of liberating anarchism found, e.g., in Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel.)

As a guitar player and instructor I know that any musician who wants to excel and be creative on their instrument must learn technique. Guitar techniques are massively rule-bound and structured. Every guitarist who is worth anything practices patterns and structures and disciplines themselves to do so.

There's no such thing as "structureless freedom." "Structureless freedom" is the logical equivalent of "square circle" or "married bachelor." To live anarchically in this sense is to use one's freedom to choose imprisonment. Any free choice that increases your bondage or addiction or the bondage and addiction of others is evil. Like, e.g., being "free" to indulge your sexual appetites outside of marriage. Put in Jesus' way, it is untruthful.

Choose your structure carefully and live within it. Use your freedom in Christ to dwell in the freedom-bringing structure of his kingdom. Use your freedom to love and build up others and to engage in the prison-breaking, redemptive activity of God. 

The term "Christian anarchist" is an oxymoron, since the true Christian anarchist does place himself or herself under a "rule" and within a structure, that rule and structure being the the Lordship of Christ. True Christian anarchy is not the absence of rule under the pretense of freedom, but the refusal to come under the rule of the kingdoms of this world as if, and with the hope, that our solution is yet another political one. 

As Jesus said in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” These words have proven especially redemptive to the many Jesus-followers who live in the "Somalias" of this world.

We all live under some rule or reign. 

The day I chose to live in Christ was my prison break, and I have no desire to use my freedom to go back.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Cognitive Limits of Personal Narratives


      (The River Raisin, in Monroe)

(These are some Wittgensteinian aphorisms on the limits of stories that I wrote during my praying time today. Perhaps to be further developed.)

Every person has a unique life story. If the goal is to understand a person, then we must listen to them as they tell their stories, or their sub-stories (stories within their life story). 

Uniqueness has nothing to do with truth. A story might be interesting, but "interesting" does not cause the listener to say, "Aha! That's so interesting. Therefore it is true."

The details of their story might not be accurate. For example, there may be exaggeration.

The hearer of the story must interpret it. (Unless the interpreter is a postmodernist, à la Jacques Derrida. According to Derrida, no one can interpret a text, at least in terms of authorial intention. Which means, Derrida expected no one to interpret his texts, thus proving his point, in a self-contradictory way.)

A story is something we listen to, for the sake of understanding.

A person's story is not something to be "affirmed." For example, if the person is a pedophile. If they applaud pedophilia, we can listen to their story (e.g., if we are a psychologist). We may discover how they came to affirm pedophilia. They may say "true" to this statement: Pedophilia is a moral good. But, hopefully, the psychologist does not affirm the statement Pedophilia is a moral good. That statement is false.

A story may be the bearer of truth, or the bearer of falsity. We may ask, "What is the moral of the story?" But the expression of the moral of the story (in a statement) is extrinsic to the story itself.

Imagine I am sitting in your kitchen. It's just you and me. I pull out an assault rifle. While fondling its trigger, I share my story. Of how I grew to love shooting people with assault rifles. After hearing it, you are probably not going to reply with, "I affirm your story."

Stories, whether factive or fictive, can carry emotional weight and transformative power. Stories can move us, in certain ways. That may be good. But from all this emotion, this does not follow:

1) This story makes me emotional.

2) Therefore, I must affirm it as true.

The emotional weight of a story is not equivalent to the truth of its underlying moral point. A story may point us in a truth-bearing direction. Once that direction is identified, we dismount that horse to use reason (logic) to evaluate the truth or falsity of whatever moral point has been made.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Power of Investing Spiritually in Our Children

(Kitty Hawk, NC)

I have been serving and teaching in children's ministries since the early 70s, when I was a pastor in Joliet, Illinois. This is among the most important things I do as a follower of Jesus. I get to spiritually invest in their lives. It's going to happen again, at Redeemer, this coming Sunday morning.

Philosopher James K. A. Smith writes:

"Spiritual formation in Christ requires a lot of rehabituation precisely because we build up so many disordered habits over a lifetime. This is also why the spiritual formation of children is one of the most significant callings of the body of Christ. Every child raised in the church and in a Christian home has the opportunity to be immersed in kingdom-indexed habit-forming practices from birth. This is why intentionality about the formation of children is itself a gift of the Spirit. It’s also why carelessness and inattention to the deformative power of cultural liturgies can have such long-lasting effects. The “plasticity” of children’s habits and imaginations is an opportunity and a challenge."

(Smith, James K. A.. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Kindle Location 1031. Emphasis mine.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Being In the Will of God


Monroe County Community College

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

But of course. If someone is not living in the will of God, how should they expect to hear from God, except the Spirit telling them "Live in the will of God."

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. Willard writes: "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 out of your "in Christ" status. This is the great Pauline imperative. Hearing God's voice is a byproduct of a Christ-abiding life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Pastors Enter Into The Grief of Others


                                                                  (Our grandson Levi.)

I became a youth pastor in 1971. I've been pastoring ever since - for fifty-one years.

A major part of a pastor's job description involves being with grieving people. We are caregivers and comfort bringers to suffering people.

A pastor enters into the grief of others. We have been trained to do this. Many pastors do this with excellence. 

Not a week goes by without one or more grief-stricken people contacting Linda and I for help. In this, we are not exceptional. Every pastor does this.

Here are some of the ways I have done this, over five decades. I present this to you as non-exceptional pastoral ministry. Every pastor who views their calling as a shepherd to others knows about this. Every shepherd-pastor has a list like mine. 

We do funerals. 

We meet and pray with people who have lost loved ones. 

We weep with those who weep.

We comfort parents who have lost children.

We comfort young people whose siblings overdosed and died.

We are with families and friends who have lost someone to suicide.

We respond in the middle of the night to crisis phone calls.

We meet with victims of murder.

We meet with murderers.

We visit people in prison.

We care for the suffering and dying.

We have been with people as they took their last breath.

We spend a portion of our time with the hospitalized.

We counsel adulterers and their survivors.

We rescue marriages and families.

We cry with the victimized.

We help the helpless.

We bring hope to the hopeless.

We have time to talk with hurting people.

We pray with people.

We befriend outcasts.

We agonize over the sufferings of others.

We counsel those grieving their moral failures.

Sometimes we are just there, with grieving people, saying little, or nothing.

We do none of this perfectly.

Every pastor I know does these things, and more.



To Love Deeply Is to Suffer Deeply

Monday, September 19, 2022

Grief and Hope


(Our dog So-Fee, and me)

If there is one thing that is certain, it is taxes. But there is something more certain than taxes. One day I will die. Death is more certain than taxes. 

I think about death. One result of my conversion to Christ fifty-two years ago was a greater awareness of death. Being a philosophy major helped me deal with death. "Death" is a big-time philosophical theme. 

How we think about death influences how we live today. Heidegger told us that life is best lived in light of one's death. The death of Socrates, as told by Plato, is philosophically famous as an example of a good life, and a good death. 

Attending a theological seminary and becoming a pastor meant I would be called into life-and-death situations, some of which ended, of course, in death. 

I have done many funerals. I did the funerals of my mother, my father, and Linda's mother and father. My infant stillborn son David never got a funeral because of the crazy circumstances surrounding his expiration. I have done funerals during this season of COVID. When you minister at a funeral you deal with death. You meet with people whose loved ones are gone.

I have cried at the death of loved ones. I cried when we put our dog So-Fee "to sleep." That was one of the hardest things I have ever done. We loved her so much! Driving her to the veterinarian's office as when she was dying was, for me, ridiculously painful. The fact that she trusted in us, in me, but could not be communicated to, made the situation harder. It made me angry. Angry... at death... at the fact of death.

For several years I was the pastoral chaplain at the Mid-Michigan Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Lansing. This was Sparrow Hospital's "HOPING" group. HOPING: Helping Other Parents In Normal Grieving. David was pronounced dead in this hospital. 

My loss of David made me, in some way, "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." Once or twice a year I would speak, representing HOPING, to parents who lost their children in the hospital. That was intense. It feels intense as I write about it.

I never forget these things. I do not want to forget them. I cannot and should not forget that death is still with us. In times of death, when walking through the valley of the shadow of death, some people think and reflect. Not all, but some. 

I once did a funeral where friends of the drug-overdosed  deceased person, were having a tailgate "party" in the funeral home parking lot. Alcohol was their drug of choice for dealing with grief. They staggered into the funeral service, having failed to "drown their sorrows."

Every death is a God-opportunity. Worldviews kick in at funerals. People weigh things, evaluate things, deal with incomplete things, unsaid things that should have been said, the experiential finality of death, and with their own mortality. All these are thematic in the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. 

At a funeral I share how forgiveness is possible in Jesus, and how in his resurrection we have hope beyond the grave. As I speak, I see people who are listening, who are HOPING. Some, who live in denial, come out of that dark closet and stand, for a while, in the light. In that moment, they are looking for some hope, as before them stands the Hope of the World.

How do I handle death? I like what Thomas Merton said after one of his healthy meditations on life's mortality: "The important thing is simply turning to [God] daily, preferring his will and mystery to everything that is evidently and tangibly "mine."" (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander) Note the quotes around the word "mine" since, obviously, we own nothing in this earthly life. This includes other people. Even we are not our own.  

I'm going to die. 

You are too. 

But Christ has been raised. 

I'm going to live.

You can, too.

I have hope, and so can you. Choose, as I have, to live in the light of that eschatological hope, and connect, now, with "Christ, the HOPE of glory."

See also...

To Love Deeply Is to Suffer Deeply

Be Quick to Listen, Be Slow to Text


                                                                    (Lake Michigan)

I don't use social media or texting to share negative things, or work out interpersonal conflict. For such things Face-to-Face is best.

When face-to-face, first listen. Understand before opening your mouth. Be a slow cooker, not a microwave.

Henri Nouwen writes:

"When you write a very angry letter to a friend who has hurt you deeply, don't send it! Let the letter sit on your table for a few days and read it over a number of times. Then ask yourself: "Will this letter bring life to me and my friend? Will it bring healing, will it bring a blessing?" You don't have to ignore the fact that you are deeply hurt. You don't have to hide from your friend that you feel offended. But you can respond in a way that makes healing and forgiveness possible and opens the door for new life. Rewrite the letter if you think it does not bring life, and send it with a prayer for your friend." (Bread for the Journey)

Be quick to listen, 
slow to text. 


Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Deconstructing Progressive Christianity

31 Letters to the Church on Discipleship

Encounters with the Holy Spirit

31 Letters to the Church on Praying (December 2022)

Sunday, September 18, 2022

An Incoherent, Dogmatic, Progressive Christian Belief


Colby Martin is a self-proclaimed "progressive Christian." I read his book - The Shift: Surviving and Thriving After Moving from Conservative to Progressive Christianity.

In this book Martin states his beliefs about Christianity. One of his beliefs is that "believing" is toxic. He writes:

 “There does not exist one single way to be a progressive Christian; therefore the following pages won’t tell you what you need to do (or worse, what you need to believe) in order to become one.”

Note that in this logically incoherent sentence Martin states this belief: There does not exist one single way to be a progressive Christian. (Call this Belief 1.)

Apparently, to be a progressive Christian one must, or should, or ought to, believe in Martin's belief.

But, according to Martin, that's horrific ("worse"), since Martin is giving us a singular belief, about what we need to believe, in order to become a progressive Christian. ("Thou must believe there are many beliefs, and this is one you ought to believe.")

If someone does not believe in Martin's dogmatic belief, then it seems the unbeliever believes this: There does exist one single way to be a progressive Christian. (Call this Belief 2.)

But no true progressive Christian believes in Belief 2. Meaning that, to become a progressive Christian one must (or eventually will) believe in Belief 1. Which leads to Belief 3: There is no single way to become a progressive Christian, and to  become a progressive Christian one must (or eventually will) believe this. 

The upshot?

Beliefs are unavoidable.

Progressive Christianity has its own dogmatic beliefs. (On this, see theologian Michael Kruger, The Ten Commandments of Progressive Christianity.)

(Note: This is why atheists Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker abhor postmodern illogic. See Pinker, Rationality: What It Is. Why It Seems Scarce. Why It Matters.)

Flourishing and Bearing Fruit in Old Age

(In Detroit)

I am seventy-three years old.

I've written Psalm 92:12-14 on a card. I placed it next to our downstairs computer.

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the LORD,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age.

To bear fruit in old age. That is what I desire. I refuse to get so far away from the city of God that I no longer hear his voice.

A. W. Tozer writes:

"That is exactly what people in ruts find out about themselves. They discover that the passing of time tends to dull their religious feelings, and the signal that used to be quite clear is fading out." (Tozer, Rut, Rot, or Revival: The Problem of Change and Breaking Out of the Status Quo, Kindle Locations 392-394)

Not for me. It's time to flourish and bear more fruit.

Linda and I flourished from the beginning. We were caught up in the Jesus Movement. (See God's Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America.) If you flourished during the Jesus Movement, read this book.

That's the spiritual soil we thrived in. Today, decades later, our roots are deeply planted in the house of the Lord.

To flourish in the courts of the Lord. Life doesn't get better than that!

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Letter to a Grieving Divorcee


(Monroe County)

I wrote a a letter to a friend of ours whose divorce was finalized. Linda and I meet many people in this situation. So, I thought I'd post it here, with appropriate changes.

BTW - "amicable divorce" is an oxymoron, like "Microsoft Works."


Hi _____, I'm glad you called. Some of my thoughts are... (if they don't fit please forgive me)...

  • The finalization of a divorce, no matter how bad the marriage was, is like lowering a dead body in a grave and burying it. Divorce is the death of hopes and dreams a husband and wife had when they stood before God and pledged their love and fidelity, "until death do us part." The idea was never "until the marriage dies."
  • The God-given, emotional response to death (the final loss of something precious) is grief. You are now experiencing grief, a word that covers a range of emotions. In the aftermath of death, grief remains.
  • Grieving can do its work if one has a community that absorbs the grief. Linda and I (and others) are part of that community, for you. 
  • Jesus knows grief. He is "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." "He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" - Isaiah 53:3.
  • Continue to dwell in Him. Before Jesus went to the cross, he instructed His disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you... If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him." (John 14:18, 23) The Jesus said, "Abide in Me, and I in you." (John 15:4)
  • We are promised that, as we live an abiding life in him, our lives will bear much fruit. Even for the grieving person who abides in Christ, God continues to bear lasting fruit in and through them. This remains true for you.
  • Finally, any real or perceived condemnation you feel coming from others who wonder about your divorce is not from God. All of us are in the same boat here. We've all sinned and fallen short of God's glory. All our sin and failure has been crucified with Christ. Now, sin and death no longer rule, but Grace Rules. Where Grace Rules (and Law no longer does), no condemnation can come against us. Therefore, I bless you today with the freedom we share, because Christ reigns in our lives.

John (and Linda)