Two Books – An Invitation to Read Together

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I am inviting any interested persons to join me in reading one or two books with me in the first three months of 2010.

Book 1 – Abide in Christ, by Andrew Murray. You can purchase this book for $9 at, or read it online for free here. We will be in John chs. 14-17 through March 2010. The central theme is: remaining in Jesus, like a branch is connected to a vine. This book, which has a number of short chapters, can be read devotionally.

Book 2 – Muslims and Christians At the Table, by Bruce McDowell and Anees Zaka. $11 at here. I am diving in to more Islam studies in 2010, as a preparation for some things I believe God has for me to do in the days ahead. I invite you to tag along with me as this is one book that has been recommended to me by a close friend who is a missionary in a Muslim nation.


Read one (or two) of these books with me.

Send your thoughts, comments, what God is saying to you, questions, to me.

I will post them on my two websites – here, and – and interact with them. I will use your name in the posts. I may choose to edit your writing.

Any questions, let me know.



“Avatar’s” Pantheism Is Not Real Pantheism


(What’s more fun than webbing about “Avatar?”)

With the movie “Avatar” the worship of Nature has again stepped forward. God is made equal to Nature; “God” = “Nature”; by “God” we really mean “Nature.” Persons are part of Nature. We are to commune with Nature, to “be one with Nature.” And, in Avatar, we see that Nature sides with those who commune with it and call out its name. “The Na’Vi are saved by the movie’s hero, a turncoat Marine, but they’re also saved by their faith in Eywa, the “All Mother,” described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing.” (Douthat)

The idea that Nature is a being with consciousness is worthy of being rejected for the following reasons.

1. Science does not support this metaphysical claim.

2. History and personal experience argue against Eywa-theory. “Nature,” simply as nature, seems indifferent. We call Nature “Mother Nature,” and label the hurricane “Katrina,” but they do not answer (unlike “Avatar’s” Eywa) when we call their names.

3. The historical fact that some ancient peoples worshiped Nature is not an argument for the truth of the idea that Nature is a being with a mind of its own. To think so is to commit, in logic, the genetic fallacy.

4. Philosophical pantheism does not support Eywa – theory. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s essay on “Pantheism” states: “Where pantheism is considered as an alternative to theism it involves a denial of at least one, and usually both, central theistic claims. Theism is the belief in a “personal” God which in some sense is separate from (transcends) the world. Pantheists usually deny the existence of a personal God. They deny the existence of a “minded” Being that possesses the characteristic properties of a “person,” such as having intentional states, and the associated capacities like the ability to make decisions.” (emphasis mine) Call Nature “Eywa” if you want, but “Eywa” does not have intentional states. So the Cameron-idea at the end of “Avatar” where Eywa “responds” is, on philosophical pantheism, absurd. SEP concludes: “Worship and prayer are not suitable to pantheism.” Read the etnire SEP essay to understand this.

As a Christian theist what am I to make of nature? Here’s a thought from C.S. Lewis’s Miracles which tells us that Nature is not to be considered God, but viewed differently.

“I spoke just now about the Latinity of Latin, It is more evident to us than it can have been to the Romans. The Eng-lishness of English is audible only to those who know some other language as well. In the same way and for the samereason, only Supernaturalists really see Nature. You must go a little away from her, and then turn round, and lookback. Then at last the true landscape will become visible. You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water frombeyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God,or as Everything, is to lose the whole pitch and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see …this as-tonishing cataract of bears, babies and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries,fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. How could you ever have thought is was the ultimate reality? How could you everhave thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself. Offer her neitherworship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. If we are immortal, and is she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) torun down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigiblefairy, this dumb witch. But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The‘vanity’ to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured in charac-ter: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilized. We shall still be able to recognize our old enemy,friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting.”

Avatar’s Noble-Savage Pantheism


Today I: filled up the bird feeders in my back yard; tied to position one of them so squirrels could not get to it (which one enterprising squirrel did with incredible feats of mental ability and physical flex-ability, showing that a squirrel is smarter than a person; viz., me); made chili which is now slow-cooking; did some reading; talked witha  few people on the phone; talked with Linda; trembled as Linda started cleaning out the family room closet; and wrote on my website between it all as thoughts came to me.

Now, I write of “Avatar.” We saw it yesterday. I recommend seeing it, if only for the 3-D effects. Visually, it’s stunning. And the story line? It’s the “noble savage” theory re-heated and pantheism celebrated. For a very good essay explaining America’s EckhartTolleDeepakChopraOprahWinfreyJamesCameron-love affair with pantheism, see Ross Douthat’s helpful nytimes essay here.

Douthat writes: “Pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now. It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”” “Avatar” is not about “when nature calls” but when one calls on “nature” and “nature” comes to the rescue. Which, of course, is a metaphysically silly idea. And, as we have known for some time now, the “noble savage” theory has no actual application.

I think Douthat is on target as he describes today’s pantheism as expressive of the desire to find some kind of meaning in all of this mess when one has abandoned theism. “We pine for what we’ve left behind, and divinizing the natural world is an obvious way to express unease about our hyper-technological society. The threat of global warming, meanwhile, has lent the cult of Nature qualities that every successful religion needs — a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of ‘thou shalt nots,” and a piping-hot apocalypse.”

I like rescue stories where good defeats evil. As this happens in “Avatar” I was cheering inside (as Scandinavians prefer over outward cheering). Unfortunately for pantheism, its noetic framework is fundamentally unable to account for such a thing. Whereas theism can. I simply cannot make sense of morality within a pantheistic framework. Douthat writes: “The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.”

Douthat concludes: “If there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one. Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago. But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.”

Be Still



Every morning, for some years now, Linda gets up and sits in our living room, quietly, before God. She does this for up to a half hour. She slows down in her heart and mind. She listens for the voice of God. She gets spoken-to by God. She has been captivated by Psalm 46:10, which reads: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

The Hebrew word here for “be still” is raphah. It means things like: “be slack” (re. your arms); “be idle” (stop working and striving); “take leave” (of all your busyness); “cease struggling” (with God); even “be weak” (so God can be strong).

“Chill out, and know that I am God.”

“Let go, and know that I am God.”

Ps. 46: 10 does not instruct us to:

“Overwork, and know that I am God.”

“Be busy, and know that I am God.”

“Multi-task, and know that I am God.”

“Try harder, and know that I am God.”

“Get uptight, and know that I am God.”

We can draw a line that connects Psalm 46:10 with John 15, where Jesus tells us to “abide” and “rest” and “remain” in him, like a branch is connected to a vine. The promises for us then include: Jesus will give us his peace, his joy, and reveal to us all the Father has made know to him. This is the incredible invitation to “be” with God, with the seminal Jesus-idea that being is prior to doing; viz., being-with God necessarily precedes all relevant “doing” in the name of God.

The “be still” thing is essentially a heart-thing. You don’t have to be in a physically quiet place to have a still, quieted heart. A “stilled” heart can be had in the midst of outer chaos. Jesus himself walked into a number of dark, chaotic situations. We don’t see him freaking out and taking on the outer chaos in his own, inner heart. There is a focused calm about him that’s all about his ongoing abiding in the Father. How does Jesus do this? Who wouldn’t want to live like this? But how is this possible? In John 14-15 he gives us the answers.

In John 14 Jesus says: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” Then Jesus gives his disciples, and us, this amazing invitation: “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” The Father and Jesus the Son will come and “make their home in us.” (John 14:23) If God is in your “home” (= heart), struggling ceases, and stillness remains. If the Lord is my fortress and in his fortress I dwell, what shall I fear? Who wouldn’t want to live like that?

Begin, today, with these thoughts in mind and in action.

1. Take 10-15 minutes and just “be” in God’s presence. With no agenda but (if this can rightly be called an “agenda”) to “be still, and know that God is God.”
2. Do this again tomorrow. And the next day…, and so on…
3. Do not strive to make something happen. You might say to God, “I want to know how to be heart-still, that I might know You better.”
4. Listen.
5. Watch, over time, that and how God meets you in that secret place which is your heart.

A final thought. There might be so much chaos in your life right now that you are thinking “I cannot find time to do this with all the stuff that’s going on!” Or: “I could never get still before God with all the clutter in my heart!”

I can tell you from personal experience, and much time doing this, and teaching this to many pastors and leaders over the years, that while “being still” in the middle of chaos might seem counter-intuitive, it is precisely what is needed, and what God calls you to do. In the phrase “know that I am God,” it is important to understand that “knowing,” in Hebrew, is a relational, experiential thing. Psalm 46:10 is a “call to relationship” with God. As are the last earthly words of Jesus in John chapters 14-17.

Holy Infant, So Tender and Wild



On Christmas Day the Revolution began. So did the Resistance.

 “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.”

The dark kingdom rises up.

The lie – “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.””

This is a pretense of worship, religious ingenuousness. Fake worship is always undermining. It is a dangerous thing to sing “Here I Am to Worship” when one is not there to worship. Such is the nature of the Resistance.

The Revolution – “”Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt…”

Danger  = when the Revolution meets the Resistance. Spiritual sparks are going to fly when the Overcomer of our souls greets our souls’ Underminer.

The weapon of the Revolution is love. “It is time for a love revolution. It is time for a new constitution.” (Lenny Kravitz)

  • “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
  • “When Jesus landed (on the shore) and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14)
  • “Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”” (Matthew 15:32)
  • “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

In Philippians 2:1-3 Paul wrote: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

The baby born this day is “tender.” Compassionate. Love incarnate. Where such love is born is where the Resistance rises. But this baby is also “wild,” not mild and meek. Is he submissive? Of course. But only to his Father.

1. This babe submits to no one else.
2. Therefore, this babe is dangerous.

In C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” the fawn named Mr Tumnus is explaining that Aslan cannot be understood. Tumnus says, “He is not a tame lion.” “No,” replies Lucy, “but he’s good.” This is get-behind-me-Satan and go-before-me-God stuff. That, precisely, is what the Christmas Revolution is about, and why there is Resistance.

Love is born.
Love is loved and hated.
Love gets crucified.
Love chooses to get crucified.
Love sets free.
Love dies.
Love rises.

There is nothing “meek” about this story. Christmas is worship given to this holy infant, both tender and wild.

Violent Night

rev 12


C.S. Lewis referred to Christmas as “The Great Invasion.” In chapter 7 of Mere Christianity Lewis writes:

“One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe–a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin…  Christianity agrees… that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.

Enemy-occupied territory–that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery. I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil-hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.’ I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him better I would say to that person, ‘Don’t worry. If you really want to, you will. Whether you’ll like it when you do is another question.'”

The most a-cultural telling of Christmas is found in Revelation 12:1-7. We read:

“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

And there was war in heaven.”

Robert Mounce says that: 1) the “woman” here is not Mary, but the messianic community, the “ideal Israel” (231); 2) out of the messianic community is born a “child,” a Messiah; 3) the seven-headed red dragon is Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2); 4) Satan is looking to devour this child; AKA Jesus the Christ.

Mary has already been prophetically warned about such things. In Luke 2 we read that…

…the old man “Simeon took him [baby Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Violent night
Holy night
All’s not calm
All’s not bright

Christmas Eve – that violent night when the Light of the World descended into darkness…

Social Networking & the Meaning of “Friend”


In Exodus 33:11 we read that “the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” I think face to face friendships are closer than Facebook friendships. (Many have commented on the use of “friend” on social networks like Facebook, usually admitting that Facebook “friends” are, mostly, different from face to face friends.)

In John 15 Jesus calls his disciples “friends.” The Greek word here is philoi, which is from philia, one of the four Greek words for “love.” Jesus’ words “I call you friends” could be translated as “I call you the ones I love.” Philoi has nuances of intimacy that our English word “friend” does not capture.

My son Dan and his wonderful wife Allie are in their second year working in Japan. It’s been a year since we have seen them. Linda and I do appreciate Facebook because we pull up pictures they post there. But better than that is when we talk with them on the phone. Best of all will be this coming April when they return home after two years away and we will see them, face to face, and hug them.

No doubt, social networking is huge and will only get bigger. It surely has its positive aspects. It is also transforming the traditional idea of “community” as a face to face, actual physical-presence kind of thing. Hence, for me, arise some concerns, and some cons of social networking. One “con,” e.g., may be: “The hours per day of face-to-face socializing have declined as the use of social media has increased. People who use these sites frequently are prone to social isolation. Parents spend less time with their children and couples spend less time together even when they live in the same house, because they are using the Internet instead of interacting with each other.” One “pro” of social netowkring may be: “Social networking sites allow people to create new relationships and reconnect with friends and family. Increased communication, even online, strengthens relationships.”

Surely many examples of the blessedness of social networking can be given. And yet, as cited above, I have concerns over some parents who seem to dwell on Facebook, making me wonder about them and their marriages and families. Some Facebook-prophets are needed to call these faces back to the land of physicality.

Surely a strong case can be made for the superiority of face-to-face rather than Facebook when it comes to friendships. One wants to hold the beloved in one’s arms rather than merely touch the screen. Because persons are psycho-physico-spiritual beings, the most meaningful way to engage and potentially befriend real persons must include physical presence. Even though the days of Facebook text-weddings is coming, it’s a lot better to physically kiss your life partner standing before the presence of family and friends. 

For a good list on the pros and cons of social networking check this out.

Live the Imbalanced Life



Jesus did not come to show us how to “balance our lives.” Life, for Jesus, is not some balancing act. Life is not a pie graph that is cut into pieces, the purpose of which is to ensure that every important piece gets attention: God, church, prayer, work, kids, play, exercise, paying bills, the golf game, etc. etc. Life is not a check-list of “to do” items. God’s “to do” list for us has one item only: God.

Jesus wants the whole pie, all 100% of it. Life is to be lived from that perspective. “All” is to be given in love and worship and service to God. If your heart was a pie, then love the Lord your God with the whole thing, and not just a slice. Don’t save any of it for yourself.

Hebrew culture did not have access to pie graphs. They thought hierarchically. Kings deserve one’s entire worship and allegiance; blind beggars, women, and children deserve nothing. Jesus, in what is called the “upside-down kingdom” or “Great Reversal,” reverses the whole hierarchy, shockingly so. The Real King is born an “expendable.” The Real King dies the life of a societal non-person on a cross. All this kingdom Jesus-activity is to be understood, not from the perspective of an equally balanced and sliced pie, but from the honor-shame hierarchy. Jesus didn’t compartmentalize his life doing a lot of self-promoting things and then give a percentage of his time sacrificing for us.

Hierarchies prioritize. Prioritize your life. Expend your life on the most important things; be pruned of the unimportant. The King has come to you. Give all your heart, soul, mind, strength, life, time, money, talents, in sacrifice to him and the cause of his Kingdom. In this way get out of balance.

Which Nations are Poorest When it Comes to Religious Freedom?

Which Nations are Poorest When it Comes to Religious Freedom?

The Pew Forum Report on Religion and Public Life yesterday said that “nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people who live in countries that have severe restrictions on religion.” It is mostly Muslim nations who impose such restrictions.

The report ranks countries by one index that assesses government restrictions on religion and another that measures social hostilities or curbs on religion that stem from violence or intimidation by private individuals or groups.

From this link we read:

The Government Restrictions Index is based on 20 questions used by the Pew Forum to assess state curbs on religion at the national, provincial and local levels.

“Is public preaching by religious groups limited by any level of government?,” and “Taken together, how do the constitution/basic law and other national laws and policies affect religious freedom?” are among the questions asked.

Both lists rank 198 countries worldwide and are based on scales of 0-10. Saudi Arabia was the only country to appear on both “very high” lists. The rankings fall under four categories: “Very High,” “High,” “Moderate” and “Low”.

Following are the countries ranked as the most restrictive or “Very High” on both lists. The first list has 10 countries, the second has 11.


Very High or Top 5 percent of scores from 6.7 to 8.4.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uzbekistan, China, Egypt, Burma (Myanmar), Maldives, Eritrea, Malaysia, Brunei.


Very High or Top 5 percent with scores from 6.8 to 9.4

Iraq, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Somalia, Israel, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Saudi Arabia.

I remember, in my U-Toledo dialogue with a Muslim Imam who was from Egypt, that I shared about persecution of Christians in Egypt on the basis of statistics such as these, plus three Egyptian pastors who were recent students of mine. The Imam just shook his head in disagreement.

The Pew Forum Report is the kind of thing that makes some of us wonder about what will happen if Islam grows in our country. Perhaps the Interfaith Dialogue efforts of ICA are in a significant minority? Is there something intrinsic to Islam that disallows freedom of religion?

What the Word Became



Multiple Choice – choose the correct answer, which is also the best answer.

1. In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became a text and dwelt on our I-phone.

2. In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became a Face and dwelt on Facebook.

3. In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became a download and dwelt on our hard drive.

4. In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Better to have God make his home with us and in us (John 15) then God as: 1) merely a text; 2) only a Face; 3) just a download out of the ethersphere.

Better “Emmanuel” that “Text-uell,” “Face-uell,” or “Download-uell.”

The Word: not just some more words, not just another pretty face, not just some software that takes up more space. The Word was one of us.

“The Word was first, the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out…

…The Word became flesh and blood,

and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”

(The Message)