Resurrection For Lunch

I invite you to come to our Redeemer building on Tuesday, April 3, from noon-1. I will be presenting a Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus.
My RMS students will also be there.
This is something I have been studying for 41 years! Part of my Ph.D work was in this area.
I look forward to sharing this information with you. I think you will find it to be faith-building, and make your Easter celebration even better.
Redeemer Fellowship Church 5305 Evergreen Monroe, MI 48161 734-242-5277

Spiritual Formation: Two Realities to Keep in Mind

Lightning, from my porch.

I returned to Monroe from two days in Spokane, Washington. I was with some of our HSRM leaders and Jesus-followers of American Baptist Churches of the Northwest. I am tired, but it was a good weekend! I enjoyed meeting a lot of new people and making some new friends.
I got a lot of reading done on my flights. I am really enjoying, and strongly recommend, Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer. Over the years God has used Richard’s work and life to deeply influence me. Re. his life, listen to this.
It was the fall of 1977. I was teaching a course on prayer in the M.Div. program at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was using some of Richard’s material, and thought I’d love to have him come as a guest teacher if he was ever in the Chicago area. I contacted him, and talked to his secretary. She told me: “Richard is not taking speaking engagements for a year for the purpose of spending more time in prayer and God-seeking.”
I knew then why God was using Richard in my life, and why I would have loved to have him teach my class for a day. I need to hear from teachers who have time to pray and know God! In a world where so much that is written is shallow and microwaved for publication, it is rare to find a depth that arises from a life of actually praying.
So, with that little introduction, Richard writes:
“As we consider the transformation of the human heart, we need to keep two central realities clearly in mind.”
#1 – “To begin with, we simply cannot program our own heart. We cannot program anyone else’s heart… I will just state it in this flatfooted manner: You are not in charge of the transformation of your heart. Neither am I. This is God’s domain, and you and I are utterly dependent on God to accomplish the work of heart transformation. We can want heart transformation and seek after heart transformation. Those certainly are good things to do. But the truth is we do not make transformation happen. God does.”
#2-  “Second, the human heart itself is part of our problem. We are, each and every one of us, a tangled mass of motives: hope and fear, faith and doubt, simplicity and duplicity, honesty and falsity, openness and guile. God knows our heart in ways we can never know. Supernatural abilities are needed to untangle the mess. God is the only one who can separate the true from the false. Only God can purify the motives of the heart.” (Kindle Locations 167-174)
We cannot change ourselves. God once told me, many years ago, “John, why are you trying so hard to change other people when you can’t even change your own self?”
But God can change me.
Therefore, I will choose to dwell in His presence.

Redeemer Ministry School – Spring 2012 Classes

Our Redeemer Ministry School Spring Trimester begins March 20 and ends June 1.
Our Spring courses are:
Apologetics – John Piippo. Tuesdays, 9:30-1. First class – March 20. Description: The word “apologetics” means: to defend one’s faith. In this course students will especially learn to defend: 1) the existence of God; 2) the existence of and person of Jesus Christ, with emphasis on the historical resurrection; 3) the belief that God is all-loving and all-powerful even though there is evil and suffering in the world; and 4) that the Bible is the Word of God and not simply another book.
Kingdom of God III – Historical Survey of The Moves of God – Josh Bentley. Wednesdays, 9:30-1. First class – March 21. Description: This course will survey the way that The Kingdom of God has advanced historically from the Acts of the Apostles until today. There will be great attention paid to the origins, characteristics, and demises of each move of God.
Worship III – Creativity in Worship – Holly Benner and Gary Wilson. Thursdays, 9:30-1. First class – March 22. Description: Have you ever noticed how many different methods of worship are found in the Bible? Singing, clapping, dancing, building, shouting, kneeling, playing instruments, giving… the list goes on! We are the Body of Christ, and God has fashioned each one of us to give Him a facet of praise that is unique from the person next to us. Creativity and Worship will explore how to find the creativity inside of you and to use that to honor God.
Leadership – Jim and Denise Hunter Fridays, 9:30-1. First class – March 23. Description: This course will introduce students to servant leadership principles. Our basic assumption will be: leaders for Christ are themselves led by Christ. Students will not only study leadership principles but will engage in the practice of authentic servant leadership.
Classes are $150. This covers all materials/books/etc.
To register call Redeemer Fellowship Church – 734-242-5277.
See our website for more information.

The Dalai Lama Leads Us Down the Dangerous, Untrue Rabbit Hole

In the philosophy of religion text I use in teaching my MCCC classes, the Dalai Lama has a piece called “Buddhism and Other Religions.” In his attempt to syncretize the world’s religions he puts forward a claim that is false and, it seems to me, disrespectful (perhaps out of ignorance). He writes:
“If we view the world’s religions from the widest possible viewpoint, and examine their ultimate goal, we find that all of the major world religions, whether Christianity or Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism, are directed to the achievement of permanent happiness. They are all directed toward that goal. All religions emphasize the fact that the true follower must be honest and gentle, in other words, that a truly religious person must always strive to be a better human being. To this end, the world’s religions teach different doctrines which will help transform the person. In this regard, all religions are the same. This is something we must emphasize. We must consider the question of religious diversity from this viewpoint. And when we do, we can find no conflict.” (Peterson et. al., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, Eighth edition, 578; from The Dalai Lama, Answers: Discussions with Western Buddhists )
In this quote the Dalai Lama is wrong on at least two counts.
1. The goal of Christianity is not “the achievement of permanent happiness.” Rather, the stated goal of Christianity is the worship of God, who is our Creator. The DL denies, in this essay, that there is a Creator God, viewing it as but a “religious philosophy” or a “different doctrine” from other religions, such as non-theistic variations of Buddhism. Christianity, therefore, cannot be subsumed under some “broader,” more inclusive category such as “achieving permanent happiness.” The Christian goal is nothing less than: worship of God. Christians have always seen this as different from happiness. For example, C.S. Lewis was once asked if he became a Christian to make himself happy. Lewis replied: “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” (Quoted from Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, 58) The Dalai Lama’s idea makes Christianity something other than it is; therefore it cannot be subsumed under the “happiness” umbrella.
2.  DL says: “a truly religious person must always strive to be a better human being.” I do think there are many Christians who would agree to this; indeed, who are “striving” to become better people. But this is not representative of the truly radical Jesus-and-Pauline-idea that all striving to be “better” must cease because it will not help us. Instead Jesus, in his Final Discourse, instructs his disciples that they are to abide rather than strive; viz., they are to connect themselves as a branch to Jesus, the True Vine. In a place of such connectness the idea of “striving” or “trying harder” is irrelevant when it comes to idea of Christ being formed in his followers, and living a fruit-bearing life. For me, the DL’s statement actually takes me away from the heart of Christianity and, as such, is dangerous.
Behind all this lies the DL’s a-theism (or non-theism; or non-committalism towards theism). He writes:
“Likewise, the variety of the different world religious philosophies is a very useful and beautiful thing. For certain people, the idea of God as creator and of everything depending on his will is beneficial and soothing, and so for that person such a doctrine is worthwhile. For someone else, the idea that there i no creator, that ultimately, one is oneself the creator – that everything depends upon oneself – is more appropriate… For such persons, this idea is better and for the other type of person, the other idea is more suitable. You see, there is no conflict, no problem. This is my belief.” (Ib.)
Here the DL is guilty of commiting the subjectivist fallacy; viz., that truth is a function of what a person believes. The claim God exists is either true or false. If it’s true, then it’s true for all persons; and of it’s false, it’s flse for all persons. Christians throughout history are wagering it is true. In this matter truth is more important than benficiality.
Anyone interested in more should read Boston U’s Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One. Here’s a snippet:
“At least since the first petals of the counterculture bloomed across Europe and the United States in the 1960s, it has been fashionable to affirm that all religions are beautiful and all are true… Like Gandhi, the Dalai Lama affirms that “the essential message of all religions is very much the same.” In his view, however, what the world’s religions share is not so much God as the Good—the sweet harmony of peace, love, and understanding that religion writer Karen Armstrong also finds at the heart of every religion… as Hindu teacher Swami Sivananda writes, “The fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. There is difference only in the non-essentials.” This is a lovely sentiment but it is dangerous, disrespectful, and untrue. For more than a generation we have followed scholars and sages down the rabbit hole into a fantasy world in which all gods are one.” (Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter, pp. 2-3)

Prayer-Walking Through Life

Yesterday I dropped our van off at the Ford dealership. It’s located 4 miles from our house. I decided to walk back. It was two hours of slow-walking and inner quiet. “Quiet” is a slow thing.
I was carrying 3X5 cards. I usually pack these cheap little things wherever I go. When God speaks to me I pull one out and write it down. I also carried a piece of paper with the text I’m going to preach on this Sunday – Galatians 5:13-26. And, just in case, I brought my old copy of Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude.
Temperature: 30 degrees.
Snow – gently falling, in big flakes.
Wind: 0-5.
A lot of the time I race through life, so it’s important to build in slowness. Walking through this life, I notice things more. Yesterday I had moments of joy and wonder towards God’s creation. I found myself saying, many times, “Wow!” And, “Thank you God.”
I felt gratitude towards God at just being alive and able to notice anything at all. I do not take this for granted.
This world I live in is filled with devastating beauty and just flat-out devastation. God’s creation, if attended to, is stunning to me, and people are being emotionally tasered by the Enemy all around me. In the midst of this I must stay, I need to be, God-connected lest I give in to the dark perspective.
The Psalmist wrote:
Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you; toddlers shout the songs That drown out
enemy talk, and silence atheist babble.
3-4 I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?

(Psalm 8:2-4, The Message)
I take time to attend to God’s macro-skies. I have built it in. I grew up in the age of no cell phones, so I can exist for lengthy moments without one. Sometimes, at night when it’s dark and the sky is clear, I step outside, even in winter, and look upward. The outward look at God’s artisanship is therapy for my cluttered soul. I see my micro-self, and feel God’s hand on it.
I stopped at a coffee shop, sat near a window, and pulled Thomas Merton out of my pocket. Merton has to be slow-walked through, accompanied by many pauses. I open it and see I first read it in 1988. I don’t get far when I read:
“When men are merely submerged in a mass of impersonal human beings pushed around by automatic forces, they lose their true humanity, their integrity, their ability to love, their capacity for self-determination. When society is made up of men who know no interior solitude it can no longer be held together by love: and consequently it is held together by a violent and abusive authority. But when men are violently deprived of the solitude and freedom which are their due, the society in which they live becomes putrid, it festers with servility, resentment and hate.” (xii)
Yikes! That was enough for me. I finished my coffee and walked out, towards home, marinating in Thomas Merton.
Merton wrote those words in 1958. Were he alive today he’d see that things have gotten worse, and that solitude before God is mostly gone from the face of the earth, even in the Church. People don’t walk any more, just them and God. Even walking has become another form of disconnected multi-tasking. Life, for many, is but a never-ending sequence of “accomplishing something” instead of a being-accomplished (being-fashioned/formed) by God.
God speaks to me: “Your mission is to bring My people into that secret, quiet place where I dwell. To do this you must dwell there yourself.”
My walk has brought me home. I am ready for all God has for me this day.