What Your Life Is NOT About

(Monroe)

The Real Jesus’ words are subversive. Like what Jesus says in Luke 12: 13-21. Jesus is speaking in front of several thousand people when a man interrupts and tells Jesus to side with him against his brother in an inheritance dispute. Jesus tells the man that He’ll have nothing to do with such things. But Jesus does use the man as an example of what NOT to do.

In Luke 12: 15 Jesus says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” These words are phenomenally un-American. Because here, in America, a man’s life (and a woman’s life as well) does consist of stuff, possessions, things, and money. In America today clothing does “make the man.” People get defined and hierarchized in relatiion to the carrs they drive, the homes they live in, their physical appearances, the jobs they have, their accomplishments and trophies and degrees, and so on. Here in Monroe, when I moved here 17 years ago, I heard about the “East Side” like it was the place where lesser people lived.

Jesus rejects all of this. Your life and my life, Jesus says, does not “consist” of things we wear and drive and live in and hang on the walls of our home. Can you see how radical this idea is? Can you see how, if people in America who say they are Christians actually bought into what Jesus is saying, then our consumer economy would go down the tubes? All we’d have left to trust in, since we’re not trusting in possessions any more, would be God and one another. And that would be very interesting. Would it be worse then what we have now?

Not according to Jesus. The idea that in money and possessions we have “security” is false, as well as idolatrous. And it forms the breeding ground for worry and anxiety. Who can doubt that in America today, and across the globe, these are very anxious times? And that the anxiety level is directly related to a pseudo-security that is umbilically connected to money and possessions and, to use the Jesus-word, greed?

Are you worried about your future today? Why not begin by finally rejecting the idea that your worry will diminish when you have more money. The truth is that no one in the history of our planet has ever had “more” than you and I have. So, logically, if the solution was “more,” then we should be the least anxious people who have ever lived. Unfortunately, the daily news says the opposite.

In the Kingdom Jesus talked about there’s not words like “worry” and “anxiety.” Because it’s all about trust in a God who loves and cares for you more than He cares for sparrows. And there’s phenomenal freedom in the Kingdom of God. Because God does not evaluate you by what you wear, earn, drive, or eat. To God, your life does not in any way “consist” of such things. Receive this and live free.

In Need of Healing?

(Sterling State Park)

I grew up in a church that never talked about the power of God as it relates to things like miracles happening today. Yes, Jesus healed people 2000 years ago. We all believed that. But it’s not happening today. This began to strike me as absurd, in a certain way. If God did stuff like this a long, long time ago, but does not do such things today, why not? What kind of God is that? For me, that’s the kind of thinking that makes me begin to doubt that God ever actually healed people.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to avoid embarrassment, certain Christian theologians invented elaborate theories called “cessationism” and “dispensationalism.” “Cessationism” is from the verb “to cease.” Miraculous things like healings have ceased. They don’t happen anymore. We don’t need them, because now we have the Bible. The idea goes like this: healings and miracles were needed long ago to demonstrate that God is real and that Jesus is God’s Son. But once the Bible was put together there was no more need for the healings. “Dispensationalism” says there are different “dispensations” of God or chapters in divine history. The time for God to dispense gifts of healing are now over. On the non-blbical theory of dispensationalsim, there are no more gifts of healing. (Please note that the actual Bible never, ever says that. Read 1 Corinthians 12 for starters.)

I’ve got to tell you that, as a Christian and as a theologian, I don’t buy Cessationism or Dispensationalism. As I read the Bible it tells me that God has given spiritual gifts to the people of God (the “church”). One of those gifts is healing. In the Book of Acts the early Christians were at times used by God to demonstrate His reality through physical healing.

James 5:14-15 states: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.” It doesn’t add, “But after a few hundred years you won’t need to do this any more.

Are you sick today, either physically or emotionally? I have personally seen people like you made well. I have seen cancer healed. I’ve personally seen more God-healings of people in the last few years then in all of my life. Here is what I believe. There is a God who is more than able to physically and emotionally heal people. This God is still doing these kind of things today. And this never ceases to blow me away with wonder and joy, because my academic studies immersed me in logic and analytic philosophy and the reductionistic philosophies of David Hume et. al.

Are you sick? Struggling? Find someone who believes James 5:14-15 and have them pray for you. If you don’t know someone like this, then I invite you to Redeemer Fellowship Church this Sunday. I would love to pray for you and see what God does. Or come this Sunday evening at 6 PM when we are going to teach on the restoration of the gift of healing in the 21st century. If you get healed, it won’t be us. Only God can do that. And we won’t embarrass you or get weird on you. Some of the stuff you see on TV is not how the real Jesus did it. I love it when I get to pray for a person and simply say, “In Jesus’ name, be healed.” And then, to find out they are healed! And to see them give thanks, not so much to me, but to God, who alone is able to do that kind of thing.

2 Hours (or More) of Worship & Prayer This Saturday Night

(Downtown Monroe)

We’re having our monthly Worship/Intercession night this Saturday, April 26, at our church building – Redeemer Fellowship Church – just north of Dunbar on Telegraph.

6 PM

Two hours (or more) of worshiping God and praying and being in God’s presence…

“Better is one day in Your house, O lord, than thousands elsewhere…”

If you want to join us we’d love to have you come!

We Had to Euthanize Our Dog

On Friday, April 4, we had to euthanize our dog So-Fee. For me this was heart-breaking. It was, for me, intense. Grief. Loss. Loss of a friend. Loss of a companion.

As a pastor I’m around death a lot. I’m acquainted with grief and loss. I’ve done lots of funerals over the years. I’ve visited countless people who are dying. I have been with many people at their actual moment of death. I even did my own father’s funeral, my mother’s funeral, and my mother-in-law’s funeral (Linda’s mom). To be honest, I do not mind doing these things. I view them as opportunities to inject hope into the hearts of grieving people who are looking for a foundation to stand on. If asked by God, I’d very much enjoy speaking at my own funeral.

But I hate death. I hate grief. Yes, it’s therapeutic to appropriately grieve. Yes, if people don’t allow themselves to cry and grieve it’s likely unhealthy for them and even for others. And yes I do not rejoice in grief. Grief is… grief. Sadness. Loss. Even Jesus grieved over the loss of his friend Lazarus. Even Jesus hated death.

So-Fee was twelve years old. She was part cocker spaniel and part chow. Her urethra became blocked and she could not urinate. We took her to our vet – he recommended that we take her to MSU’s small animal hospital. Inability to urinate is serious and quickly leads to renal failure and a horrible death. She was there for 4 days with a catheter inserted into her urethra and on an IV. They were unable to get a clear diagnosis – the blockage was either due to a cancerous tumor that had grown, or to an incurable condition called granulomatous urethritis. Trust me – you don’t want your dog to have either of these.

After 4 days we drove up to get her and bring her home and put her down in her home, Monroe. The vet said, let’s try an anti-inflammatory medicine and see if this shrinks whatever is blocking her. We gave her the medicine. During the night my son and I went outside with So-Fee to see if she was urinating. I was out with her at 1 AM on my front lawn, in the snow, on my knees shining a flashlight at her rear end trying to see if she would go. A car drove by. I wonder if they saw me, a 58-year-old man in the dark, doing what I was doing? But who cares – I’m trying to save my dog’s life! I take some comfort in knowing that even the prophets were misunderstood.

The medicine worked for 2 weeks. But the problem recurred. We put her in the car – she thought she was going for another one of those car rides she loved so much. We brought her to the vet. We said good-bye. We all cried.

Now, about this “death” thing. It was never supposed to be this way. Not for animals or trees or people. I’m with the way Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, chapter verses 18-21 –

“18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

Because of the real resurrection of Jesus in history, I know that death and grief and loss will not have the final word. This sustains me today. And my own belief is that even So-Fee is part of God’s creation who was subjected to frustration and who is now liberated from bondage and brought into freedom. So-Fee, if you can hear me, I’ll be seeing you soon.

My Son Moves to Japan

(Detroit Metro Airport)

Yesterday Linda and I dropped our son and his wife Allie off at Meto Airport with their four very-packed bags of luggage. They flew to Japan, where they will work for one year as English language teachers. Their home will be the city of Takayama in the Japanese Alps. It’s a beautiful setting, and should be quite an adventure for them!

Living out of the country is not new to them. Dan lived in Istanbul for two years. That’s where he met Allie, who lived there for one year. Dan accuses Linda and I of instilling wanderlust in him. It began for him when he was 8. I went to Singapore to teach for 20 days, and took Linda, Dan, and our other son Josh with me.

Christians Are Persecuted in Egypt

(The Whitman Center in Temperance)

Sunday’s Jerusalem Post had this article on Christian converts in Egypt. I’ve had some pastors from Egypt in my doctoral classes I teach at Palmer Theological Seminary. One of my students was a leader in the Coptic Church in Egypt. “Coptic” is from the Egyptian word “gupta,” from which “E-gupt” (“Egypt”) comes. The “Coptic” church is the ancient Christian church in Egypt. Also, the Egyptian pastors told me that it was very difficult to be a follower of Jesus in Egypt, and there was a lot of persecution of Christians there.

Here is the Jerusalem Post article in its entirety. Note the lack of religious freedom in Egypt. Imagine being a follower of Jesus in Egypt and having to carry an ID card that identifies you as an “Ex-Muslim.”

“Twelve Egyptian converts to Christianity have had their conversions officially recognized by an Egyptian court.

The 12 who were born Copts, converted to Islam and then converted back to their original faith.

The recognition of their new faith by the highest civil court in Egypt overturns an April 2007 ruling by a lower court forbidding them to convert to Christianity on the grounds that it would be apostasy.

The ruling is seen as a small victory for human rights advocates in Egypt.”

For more of this story go here. We read: “In his ruling Saturday (February 9), Judge El-Sayeed Noufal ordered Egypt’s Interior Ministry to issue the converts “Christian documents” noting their “ex-Muslim” status. “Every citizen should have a document confirming his civil status … mentioning one’s religion is very important to express one’s beliefs,” Noufal said in his verdict.”

Clinton & Obama On the Beginning of Human Life

(Downtown Monroe)

Yesterday Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were asked if they believed that life begins at conception. Here’s Clinton’s response.

“I believe that the potential for life begins at conception. I am a Methodist, as you know. My church has struggled with this issue. In fact, you can look at the Methodist Book of Discipline and see the contradiction and the challenge of trying to sort that very profound question out.

But for me, it is also not only about a potential life; it is about the other lives involved. And, therefore, I have concluded, after great, you know, concern and searching my own mind and heart over many years, that our task should be in this pluralistic, diverse life of ours in this nation that individuals must be entrusted to make this profound decision, because the alternative would be such an intrusion of government authority that it would be very difficult to sustain in our kind of open society.

And as some of you’ve heard me discuss before, I think abortion should remain legal, but it needs to be safe and rare.

And I have spent many years now, as a private citizen, as first lady, and now as senator, trying to make it rare, trying to create the conditions where women had other choices.

I have supported adoption, foster care. I helped to create the campaign against teenage pregnancy, which fulfilled our original goal 10 years ago of reducing teenage pregnancies by about a third. And I think we have to do even more.”

(For the full text of her response go here.)

And here’s Obama’s response: “This is something that I have not, I think, come to a firm resolution on. I think it’s very hard to know what that means, when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So I don’t presume to know the answer to that question. What I know, as I’ve said before, is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we’re having these debates.” (For the full text of Obama’s faith-responses go here.)

Does human life begin at conception? Both Clinton and Obama answer “No.” Human life does not begin at conception, but the “potential for human life” begins at conception. Which means that, somewhere along the way, the conceptus changes from non-human life to human life. I find this kind of thinking the least reasonable among options. Here are the options, as I see them.

1. Human life begins at conception. Which means: the conceptus is a “person.” Both Christian theists and atheists can believe this. The Christian theist holds that each of us was “formed and knitted together in our mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). The atheist, not believing in the idea that persons have souls, will not agree that, somewhere along the way, the some special “ensouling” happens. The conceptus is as much “human life” as you and I are.

2. Human life happens somewhere along the way. At, let’s say, time T. Which means that at time T-minus 1 second, there’s no “human life.”

Regarding position 2, who could ever decide? Such a decision seems arbitrary. If it regards a human life, why not err on the side of humanity rather than non-humanity? Clinton says, “I think abortion should be legal, but it needs to be safe and rare.” I assume she would think that, if we knew the thing in the mother’s womb was a human life, a person, she would not support taking the life of a person. The idea that the conceptus suddenly becomes, at some magic moment, “human life,” is fraught with philosophical difficulties. The idea that the conceptus is, not potentially human life, but human life, is something that both theists and atheists could support.

Obama thinks it difficult to determine when life begins. But surely this is not hard to know. A fertilized egg is not non-life, but life. A rock, e.g., is a non-living thing. A fertilized egg is a living thing. A cell is a living thing. Even the atheist can affirm this. But for the atheist, such as a Peter Singer, there’s nothing special about human life over other animal life. To claim such would be to be guilty of speciesism.

For some fuller remarks search my more academic blog using “personhood” and “abortion.”

Eric Clapton On the Power of Prayer

(Downtown Monroe)

Way back in the 70s I bought a Blind Faith album. I was a big fan of Cream, and especially Eric Clapton. On it Clapton wrote and sang a song called “In the Presence of the Lord.” The lyrics said:

“I have finally found a place to live

Just like I never could before

And I know I don’t have much to give

But soon I’ll open any door.

Everybody knows the secret

Everybody knows the score

I have finally found a place to live
In the presence of the Lord.”

 

When I was touring the Midwest singing and performing with Linda there was a time when I included this song in a set.

This February Clapton reunited with Blind Faith’s Steve Winwood for a series of concerts. In a recent CT article Clapton talks about his release from drug abuse. And the role prayer played. He says:

“I was in complete despair,” Clapton wrote. “In the privacy of my room, I begged for help. I had no notion who I thought I was talking to, I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether … and, getting down on my knees, I surrendered. Within a few days I realized that … I had found a place to turn to, a place I’d always known was there but never really wanted, or needed, to believe in. From that day until this, I have never failed to pray in the morning, on my knees, asking for help, and at night, to express gratitude for my life and, most of all, for my sobriety. I choose to kneel because I feel I need to humble myself when I pray, and with my ego, this is the most I can do. If you are asking why I do all this, I will tell you … because it works, as simple as that.”