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Miracles

I am in a reading group with some UW Madison students regarding contemporary debates in the philosophy of religion. We are using a text edited by one of my former professors in seminary, which at some level reminds me of the quality I had in this professor. The subject from last week was on miracles.

Miracles by definition should not be expected to happen every day and in every situation. In fact, if they did, they would not be all that miraculous (please take time to think about this thought). If they happened all the time they would be part of the regular sequence of nature, or at least a regular interruption of nature that could be counted on. Sometimes, as a Pastor, I might sound like the bad guy for saying that miracles are irregular events. But, I think this is part of the heritage of our Christian teaching, and the hard work of being intellectually honest.

Moreover, every miraculous report should not be believed. I think the New Testament itself bears witness to discerning all things. The early church often had to deal with other religious groups that made regular and wild claims about supernatural things. Christians were warned to test everything.

One part I really enjoyed from the book reading had to with evaluating miraculous claims in other religions. Sometimes, especially from our non-believing friends, we are challenged as to how we accept our religion’s miracles but reject others. The reading from this week highlighted a couple things I think are worth mentioning. The authors are Charity Anderson and Alexander Pruss.

The first is that no rational persons, whichever religion they find themselves in should believe every miraculous report. My thought from this is that just because one religion or perhaps even several might have legitimate miraculous claims, in no ways means all of them do. This means, just because we believe that miracles do happen, does not mean we believe all or even most reports.

The second point however was interesting to me. Given the idea that a good God does exist, we would not be surprised if we found miraculous reports of his blessing across the world at times to aid a person in need. Thus, we would not have to dismiss all other miraculous reports just because they are not found in “our” religion.

The counter argument against miracles in this chapter (5) was offered by Arif Ahmed. The point he makes is that we need to take into account the unlikely nature of miracles in the first place. He follows an old line of thought from David Hume that given how unlikely they are we should rather believe just about any other explanation than that a miracle did in fact occur. Ahmed thinks this in relation to the Resurrection of Jesus as well. Basically, ignorance, deceit, hallucination etc. is just as believable than an actual resurrection given how unlikely a resurrection is in the first place.

Of course there is much to reply to Ahmed with, such as the kind of evidence given for the resurrection makes it rational to hold to until a better explanation surfaces. Moreover, the discussion on background beliefs is important as well. If there is a God, miracles are possible. If there is no God, then Ahmed seems right, that there are none. Thus, we come back to the question about God’s existence.

https://www.amazon.com/Contemporary-Debates-Philosophy-Religion-Peterson/dp/1119028450/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=contemporary+debates+in+the+philosophy+of+religion&qid=1563994889&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Pastor’s Notes

There is lots to report this week. I hope you get to read all of it!

First – Defending the Faith – Last week I spent three days teaching High Schoolers in “Master’s Commission” hosted at Faith Christian Church in Mauston, WI. Six plus years ago I used to attend this church. They remembered my love for defending the faith and asked me to do three one-hour sessions on that subject. The students were so interested in the discussion and asked dozens of questions. In fact, the second day was so powerful to them that I was there for four hours instead of one. This experience with young people heavily confirmed my thoughts on how young people in particular are yearning and searching for answers!

Second – MP3 Pastor’s Meetings – Each month many of the Pastors of Madison and the surrounding area come together to hear an encouraging word and pray together. Most of the Pastors are in the Evangelical and Charismatic churches of the area, but we get a few Traditional Pastors as well. I was so encouraged by this last meeting. The meeting affirmed that we all trust in the “Orthodox” Christian faith. And, even though we may differ over ministry models and emphasis, we share the very same essentials passed on from the Apostles themselves. This is worth celebrating!

Third – Intimacy with God Conference at City Church – While at the MP3 meeting, Pastor Tom from City Church asked me to come and pray the morning before their Intimacy with God Conference along with other Pastors and participants. I was delighted and quickly accepted. In the nearly three years I have been here, I have deeply connected with City Church. Many times throughout the year I am teaching at their Bible College. Our churches joined for a leadership conference. Their Pastors and Prayer Team joins us each year here at Living Water for our Summer Tom Stamman meeting. This last January they asked me to lead their multi-church Young Adults retreats up north. You may remember me saying I was ministered to as much as I ministered. Finally, several of their Pastors and I get together for Pickle Ball about once a month. I look forward to continued collaboration with them into the future!

City Church is hosting the Intimacy with God Conference, but the conference is meant to bless the wider Madison area. I want to encourage you to make it if you can! Amos the prophet said, “Seek the Lord and Live!” Please pray about more opportunities for our churches (and other one’s too) to work and serve together! See the details of this conference below or click this link www.citychurchonline.org

Fourth – Sermon / Readings – This week the sermon text comes from Colossians 1:15-28. About 60-70% of the time I follow what are called the lectionary readings for which texts we read and preach on Sunday mornings. Long ago, church leaders divided up portions of the Bible to be read in churches over a three-year period that covers most of the Bible. I rely upon these texts most of the time (Minus Sermon Series and the like) for many reasons. The main reason however is that the congregation is fed a balanced diet. Every Pastor has their favorite texts, but the congregation needs more than one person’s favorites. Moreover, I find relying upon the lectionary puts me in a place of trusting God’s Word. It may seem like a tough Word on certain weeks, or perhaps something irrelevant to our situation now, but God will always come through for his Word. If you are interested in keeping track of the Scriptures on the lectionary from week to week, check out https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/

Refreshing Faith

I had a great conversation with two newer young (recently married) people after Church on Sunday. Given my sermon I figured I would get some interesting feedback. What I found in these two was a couple hungry for the truth and deeply in love with their Savior! These two recent converts to The Faith, demonstrated how they are on the front lines of several major forces that work to contravene both the truth of our bodies but also the truth of Jesus Christ. I could not have been more encouraged as they demonstrated their resolve to love people while not giving up the Scriptural truth!

Moreover, they mentioned how they were spending some time with Jehovah’s Witnesses (from here on JW’s) and they really wanted to show them that Jesus is truly God (something JW’s deny). One thing JW’s (and other cult-like groups) do is they have their position handed to them, and then they go on into the Bible (their own fairly changed translation of the Bible) to confirm their already formed beliefs. It is easy to walk into the pages of the Bible and pick verses that already agree with us. But, as Christians we are supposed to take a different route (a more fully human and honest route). We go on into the Bible and begin to form our beliefs from its content and not the other way around. We are not supposed to be building grand echo chambers, but rather a vibrant relationship with God formed on Truth.

Well, enough said there. I was greatly encouraged Sunday (and I have not even mentioned the Baptism’s!!). Let’s be praying for young people like those baptized and those I chatted with to be powerful light bearers in our sometimes dim lit society.

Communion, Children, Leftovers

The Bible does not tell us at what age children can take communion. Thus, churches can work out their own policies as to “when” they are allowed. Here at LWC we let the families choose. If the family desires for their child to have communion with them, even at very young ages, then they should. If the family desires their child to reach a certain ‘age,’ then they should follow their convictions too.

For me personally, I recognize that God’s grace is available to children even if they do not understand everything about the ‘meal’ (read ‘sacrament’). In fact, likely not one of us understands exhaustively this meal. But, that does not deter us from coming forward. What the Bible does make clear is that we should take part in this meal until Christ comes again (1 Corinthians 11:26). We should remember (re-present) the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins (Luke 22:19). Moreover, we should make sure that wealth/class/other (read ‘social division’) distinctions are dissolved during this meal (1 Corinthians 11:17-22). Finally, we should recognize the body of our Lord in this meal (whether literally, symbolically, pre-figural, or cosmically in the church) (1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Matthew 26:26-29).

Given my own convictions on the ‘meal’ are quite classic (read sacramental), I don’t like tossing the ‘leftovers.’ Thus, when some young people in the congregation have asked if they could consume the leftover bread and juice, I have given them the freedom to do so. From here on out, it will be done in the Narthex, rather than on the Altar (platform), but I find allowing this very beneficial. For one, there is joy and excitement from these young people over ‘the meal.’ The church has a role to train ‘desires’ to receive something of the Lord’s in a positive way.

One quick story to close. A Lutheran Pastor, Pastor Meyer, told me this years ago. In their tradition they also viewed the meal as a sacrament. Moreover, they used wine (not grape juice). Well, the Pastor’s were required to finish the rest of the wine after the church service. Some were getting tipsy because they poured too much for the congregation and had quite a bit to finish later. What should they do?

At first, they thought they could just pour the leftover wine down the drain. However, that felt too…well…dirty for the sacrament. Then, they decided that the leftover wine would be taken outside and poured out on the ground. A sort of ‘from the ground the grapes brought forth the wine, and to the ground the wine went back into’ motif. However, this was not always exciting in the north where temperatures in the winter can be bitter cold. So, the denomination created a spicket in their buildings that the Pastor can pour the wine into which empties outside on the ground without them ever having to go outside. To say the least, that is interesting. 

For now, we will stick to consuming the leftovers.

-Pastor Isaac

How we got the Bible Audio!

Pentecost Thoughts

Pentecost. Through the centuries there has been a lot of misunderstanding on the original Pentecost and what it means for today! Let’s clear some of the air.

  1. Pentecost is about God and His plan! It’s easy to make it about us, our plan, our ministry preference and our favorite giftings. We should make this season about God, not us and our preferences.
  2. Pentecost is about reuniting the divided nations! Early in Genesis we see the nations divided over language because they became enemies of God. In Pentecost, we see a gift of languages given to reunite what was divided long ago (Pentecost 2). This unique event brought the Gospel to numerous nations all at once who were present in Jerusalem for their large of religious festival.  
  3. Pentecost is about seeking God and not the gifts! One temptation Christians have had over the years is to seek the various gifts of God and not God himself. God gives gifts, but they are meant to point toward him. Let’s not get lost in the gifts, but in the Giver. 
  4. All Christians have the Holy Spirit! I have seen too many Christian Churches who claim to be “Holy Spirit churches” which have a sort of two-tiered caste system. Caste 1 – Christians who (supposedly) have the Holy Spirit (Spirit-filled) and Caste 2 – Christians who (supposedly) do not. I however reject this distinction. All Christians have the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Certainly, various Christians have new and important realizations of God the Holy Spirit in their lives. But, this does not mean they did not previously have the Holy Spirit. “Realization” is a key word for us, because it highlights something in a greater way that is already in one’s life. Moreover, it means we are all still growing and have something to offer each other. 
  5. The Holy Spirit points us to Christ. This is often lost in discussion on the Holy Spirit these days. We talk about signs, wonders, miracles, and missions, but we seldom talk about Christ. There is something slightly off with this. The whole purpose of the Holy Spirit is to point us to Christ (See John 16-17) and then lead us on into Christ’s mission (Acts 1:8 and 2:14-47).  

Pastor Isaac

Georgia’s Abortion Ban -?’s

Georgia passed legislation to ban abortion (with several exceptions) after a heartbeat is detected. Here is one of my responses to someone who was heavily opposed to it passing. and also used ‘race’ in the discussion, which can at times be a bit hard to disentangle. I added a little bit in what is below, for the final post reflected a few earlier ones. The person I was responding to said that this bill was anti-women. She also pointed out that black / brown/ and poor people will be the most affected. Finally, she pointed out that using my religion to force other people to its claims was wrong. Here is my response. 
 
 
1. You are pitting vulnerable women against the vulnerable in the womb. Why does it have to be an either or? Why cannot our laws reflect ways of helping vulnerable women who are pregnant and those in the womb who are vulnerable too? I just don’t think it is an either/or. It’s both/and. Can’t we find a non-violent approach to helping both?
2. You mentioned Christian ideals…but I did not. I actually mentioned science as the basis for why Roe must go. Moreover, I cited a heavily progressive and well attributed ethicist for agreement on that (Peter Singer from Princeton). Therefore, all you could say from my post is that I am pushing science (and those who know a lot about it) on others. Not my religion. Even more, I do not look at this as a religious issue. I look at this as a natural understanding that people are supposed to come to. Whether religious or not. Proof of this is found in the Right to Life movement, which has atheists involved as well as religious folk of many stripes.
3. As I said, there are many things the political parties do that are off the mark. I don’t always agree with everything pro-life bills propose. But, two things to note. The first is, I doubt the white people you pointed out specifically targeted black/brown/poor communities. That is assuming a lot about their intentions that we simply do not have access to. To be sure, you used the word “affected.” This may be the case, but I think it distracts from the point. One can use any socio-economic or minority group and talk about marginalization. In fact, the Pro-life movement often does the same thing when it points out that at least in the past Planned Parenthood clinics used to target black/brown/poor neighborhoods. The point was that black communities were disproportionately helping the abortion industry and lowering their population at the same time. Still, as much as those conversations have value, the distraction is that often this leverage on other moral issues (race) is used to control a distinct moral issue (abortion). It sounds really bad for Planned Parenthood to make a target market of black people. It sounds really bad of these ‘white straight men’ if what you say was part of their intentions. But that never gets to answering if Roe is based on outdated science or not. There simply needs to be a revision of that law in order to reflect how much more we know about womb life and fetology.
4. One more point about color and race. What if we globalize the subject of abortion and think along race lines from a global perspective? Large portions of the world whether South America, Africa, and Asia are opposed to abortion. Now, even this would not determine if it was right or wrong to have an abortion. But, if we want to use race to leverage this discussion one way or the other, then we could just as well do it against abortion.
 

Dear Pro-lifers

The story of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” comes to mind. Each time I hear the cry, “Wolf!” I have come running to this slide/picture and found nothing there.  

Is a baby a parasite? Well, no. But, should we worry about the upper biology class photo about comparing fetuses with cancers? Not at all. In fact, reacting to this image is doing a disservice to the Pro-life movement. Here is why.

https://twitter.com/DylanPGriswold/status/1121506690644365312?s=20 

It fails to take into consideration the context. This is a biology class!

We have little to no background information. We don’t have the professor’s lecture. Christians, of all people (and pro-lifers too), complain of being misunderstood. We should not do the same disservice to others. 

We confuse science with morality. On the picture of the slide in question there are no value or moral pronouncements being made. The professor is just teaching. Let’s use a parallel example. Humans are animals. Rational animals to be sure. The comparison is regular in philosophy, science, and even historical theology. Yet, the comparison does not tell us the value of human beings. It says nothing about how we should treat humans. The comparison is fine.

We are buying into a reduction that is not necessarily present. In this example, some are thinking that the slide is saying that fetuses are just/only parasites However, the slide is in no way saying this. Strangely enough, pro-lifers who are jumping on this like it is some sort of “cancer” are betraying a weakness of thought. 

It is hypocritical – The Pro-life movement, and Christianity too, has sometimes tried to get science to speak for itself and not wade into ethical judgments. By making an ethical judgement about an observational comparison (in a class we were not in) means that we are the ones crossing the line. It is not up to the scientists to make the ethical judgements from the standpoint of their own discipline. Science is by nature a descriptive discipline. Ethics is by nature a prescriptive discipline. Each discipline needs to talk with the other, but each side should recognize when it is encroaching on the other.

 We betray a misunderstanding of science – There is a great article from Scientific American on the the studies between cancer and pregnancy and how the body reacts similarly and differently in each case. Moreover, there seems to be much fruitiful research to be done in this area which may help treat cancer. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-pregnancy-help-scientists-better-understand-cancer/?fbclid=IwAR3aTLcjI39oyn0ts0FQoTjUPhvNKENa5OANbmXTaPgRKgbvPI0v0CoEOtw 

I think that Pro-lifers who react to this sort of picture not only miss the point but can be doing the Pro-life movement a disservice. We lose credibility to make moral judgments if we cannot take the time to understand the landscape first. There is no wolf. Let’s hope next time a cry is made the whole town doesn’t stay home. 

Pastor Isaac Fleming

 

 

The Garden, Temptation, and Lent

Used with Permission from https://www.instagram.com/iamnatashabou/

Throughout some of Christian history, The Garden of Eden has been looked at as a “Perfect Place.” Adam and Eve also as “Perfect People.” This interpretation is especially popular in America and Western Christianity. This Perfect View (as I will call it) has one of the most influential theologians in history in its favor. Augustine, who lived in the late 300’s. This man heavily influenced much of Catholic and Evangelical Christian Theology today. The Perfect View is so popular that few people are aware of a more original (and hence earlier too) understanding of the Garden and Adam and Eve.

The more biblical view avoids the word “perfect” and uses the Bible’s own word for the Garden and Adam and Eve. The Bible calls them “Good” (Genesis 1:31), but never perfect. Goodness has more to do with simplicity and basic humanness than it does some heavenly perfection. There are reasons that defining the garden and first humans as perfect should be avoided. Doing so we run into nearly insurmountable difficulties. Among them are 1) How did sin enter a perfect place? 2) How could perfect people choose sin? Perfection makes things hard here. But, the Simple Goodness View can get the job done.

In the Simple Goodness View, humans could not really be perfect at the outset. Humans are species that by definition are a growing and developing kind of thing. The very concept of people or humanness necessitates that they must be able to grow and mature. In other words, Adam and Eve were not pre-downloaded with all the necessary information that they would always need. God had them on a growth track. And, seemingly, the way to grow is to interact with the natural world through decisions. Opportunities to decide can build human maturity. Decisions can make us great vessels for God or corrupted vessels of sin.  

This brings us to the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” This “tree” has much to do with choice. Adam and Eve (because they are human) must have the opportunity to work on their growth. This means decisions. This possibly even means faltering. I myself do not think that God was surprised by Adam and Eve sinning. In my mind, this seems to be a possibility from the outset for all those training for godliness and growing in understanding.

The possibility of temptation is woven into the fabricate of a good world that human creatures get to make decisions in. Tim Bergman mentioned to me on Sunday that he often teaches in his Bible Seminars that temptation is “the thought to satisfy a good desire in the wrong way.” In other words, Adam and Eve’s curiosity and desire to know were good desires, but they were fulfilled in a timing and place that was not good for them. We can say the same thing about our own temptations. For an easy example, the desire to enjoy some chocolate is good. However, if one goes about stealing chocolate to fulfill that desire, or perhaps gorges on it constantly, then we would fault the route of fulfillment.  

Now to us who are also human. Lent reminds us of the good desires of Jesus for food, worship, and trusting in God that the devil wanted to use for evil.  We human creatures get “trees” or opportunities to decide how we will fulfill our desires for good things. Like Jesus, we must order our desires. Will we go about them in good and maturing ways or in detrimental and de-maturing ways? This is the challenge of any Garden. This is the challenge for all humanity. This is the opportunity of Lent!

Denominations

I was raised in a predominantly Charismatic & Pentecostal tradition. The first church that my husband pastored was a Congregational church, and we are currently at a nondenominational church with Lutheran roots. But in the midst of that, I have at least attended a service or two at a Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Orthodox, and Episcopalian church, just to name a few. I hope that list continues to grow.

The history of denominations can be a spotty one. Someone or group prefers this emphasis in the Bible so they create a church around that belief. Another assumes certain practices should have a greater role in the church so a group is created to foster that desire. Some feel ignored so they create a space where they can feel heard and build doctrines around it and so on and so forth. Often, because of this negative view, we within that world look at the other group with suspicion as if the other does not have the marks of a true Christian.

Humanity itself is quite diverse in its offerings. We range in color, language, cuisine, music and every other thing that you can imagine. Even within the small microcosm of our cities, we have different neighborhoods that have their own distinct characteristics. With that in mind, how hard would it be to wipe the slate clean and create a homogeneous society across the whole spectrum of humanity? Who’s culture would we pick? Can one culture translate well enough across the board? Dressing modestly might look a little different in Siberia than it would in the Sahara desert region. How does God work with all of this?

God among us

I think it is important to acknowledge that God came among us. He came to where we were and took on a nature that we could relate to in order to reach us. He appropriated the language and culture of the day as well as turned it on its head. He fulfilled expectations as well as added new ones. His message to us was enhanced by the backdrop of what already was and did away with them as well. He came in the midst of our understanding and spoke to us. Christ adapts to our ways but also transforms them. Our cultures, habits, and ways are but means by which God communicates to and through us. It is part of the beauty by which we were created.

There are no two people alike in this world. God comes in the midst of that and shows us Himself. No wonder why we find so many different denominations. Granted, there are certain theological beliefs that do transcend our cultural preference. So please do not think I am saying that all belief is relative to culture. As Christ’s body we can all hold to the basic premises confessed in the Apostles Creed (written below). Every Christian denomination I listed above holds to these essential truths of our common faith. Where I believe we differ many times are our cultural expression of that faith, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. My husband and I are COMPLETELY opposite in our upbringings, yet our common bond of Christ holds us together.

Yes, the Orthodox may like their long services, the Episcopalians their incense and the Pentecostals their joyful noise, but at the end of the day, our common bond is Christ. We are all doing our best with our limited understanding to serve the God that has brought us salvation. So let us extend an olive branch and embrace one another as we allow others the freedom to serve Jesus in the culture of Christianity that best suits them just as He has done for us.

Apostles Creed

I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.