Category Archives: Faith


Today I’ve seen and heard things that anger, sadden, and sicken me about humanity, and things that give me hope. I won’t go into it tonight for the sake of reprisal. What I will say, is that the paradigms come from the opposite sources of what one might expect. I’m choosing hope, because I won’t let despair have the last word.

Joy comes in the morning.

Happy Easter.


Easter thoughts from Shane Claiborne

Once again, Shane puts it so eloquently. Read his Easter message “Death Be Not Proud” here. Feel free to contribute your thoughts as well.

Blessings this Easter season.

Colony Collapse & One Night Stands

About 2 1/2 years ago, a book idea was birthed by Mike Signorelli and myself called “Real On Nine”. It’s been a work in progress for some time. We’re hoping to let it see the light of day soon. The following is from a chapter called “Colony Collapse & One Night Stands”. Hope you enjoy.


Honey bee colony collapse is a phenomenon that is believed to be caused by bee keepers that take too much of the honey for commercial uses. The bees are then given high fructose corn syrup in place of their own honey. Pushing these bees, taking the best of their product, and replacing with a lesser substitute is causing “colony collapse”. This is essentially what I see happening in our church world today. This one night stand mentality is the epitome of our throwaway society. We have to remember that souls coming into the kingdom aren’t another tally on Sunday, or even a confirmation that we’re right. How often do we forget about the workers in taking their product?

In this extravagant attempt to extract mass quantities of honey from bees, we have removed their sense of belonging, ownership, and appreciation. It’s not just new converts that are being abandoned–it’s the men and women who help run the show. We have to be very careful in our taking. What may eventually happen is that members are no longer stakeholders, but rather a means to serve self.

Humanity has proven that it has this way of misappropriating resources. We’ve proven that we crave excess at any cost. The idea that we can make money from “honey” is far more tantalizing than the thought of preserving the workers that make it possible. I’m afraid far too many churches have sought to exploit the creations of talented individuals without any regard for the longevity of the creator’s career. When the product is valued more than the producer—you can expect abandonment, bitterness, and resentment.

Many have turned in search of other colonies when they realize that their conversion was just another tally for attendance, or that their youth was just another public relations ploy. People want to know that they are in service of something real. They want to know that they will be developed, pruned, and molded in tender compassion. Colony collapse happens when the myth of genuine concern unravels. When people have been used at maximum potential, discarded, and forgotten, they come to the conclusion that the colony is in fact, not their own.

Historically, industrialization plays a major role in our collective mentality. This idea that “numbers” matter isn’t the stance that Christ would take. The most captivating moments in His ministry occurred when He crossed the line of socially appropriate and found someone alone. He wasn’t concerned with a pastor’s opinion about his productivity, youth retreat’s effectiveness, or minimum church attendance requirements. He was staring into the windows of a creation that longs for nothing more than only one inhabitant. He understood that their seemingly trivial affairs were paramount to unlocking potential. To disentangle an individual from their worries was to unleash a believer.

Isn’t this a model for ministry; that Christ would care most for the individual, that He would know each hair on our head? That He would care for each bird that annoyingly scavenges and chirps outside our ledge of luxury? That He would clothe each lily? But somehow, we’ve forgotten to take care of our brother who is infinitely valuable to the kingdom of heaven. Are his needs not our needs? Be careful not to misidentify what is waste and what is not. Don’t discard the china with the scraps. We are losing multitudes at the cost of a phone call. We are misdirecting passions at the cost of a letter. We cannot afford to return the riches of glory (people, not things) back to the wicked, because the Church couldn’t find time to care. Don’t take the busy bees for granted. Don’t take their product without reciprocating appreciation.

As soon as you accept Christ, you receive a mission. Religion has never, and will never accomplish the task. Start a dialogue with non-Christians in your life. Listen to them. Allow them the freedom to explain themselves without fear of judgment. After you’ve emptied your hand, you may empty your mouth. Christians have done a far better job of talking than listening. When you meet the physical and emotional needs of those around you, they are far more likely to believe in your Christ. The monologue must become a dialogue if we are ever going to successfully engage this generation. The Holy Spirit’s job is to change us. We will be far more effective when our friends are friends (rather than a potential number in the congregation). And we will never make a lasting impression on people if all we express of our faith is a works-based, morality driven theology that stresses a list of rules over a relationship based in love for our Creator.

Matt. 3:8 – “Prove by the way that you live that you have repented.”

Earlier we said that evangelism is most effective when it’s beginning and ending is found in our love for others. This is just as true today as it was 2000 years ago. The Church has tapped into a truth that is impossible to the outside world. When we truly have a faith in Christ, we know that we can only love others to the degree that we love Christ. Our love we find through a faith in Christ comes from the basis of knowing His love for us (even though we sometimes forget it). What we forget is that we can only extend love to others around us to the extent that we love God.

I wonder if this truth hasn’t been forgotten in the 21st century, even in the church world. We search everywhere, some endlessly, to fill the void left by people who were absent from our lives. From the neglectful parent, the abusive relationship, and the abuse and neglect that came not from being absent, but from being present without speaking into our lives. Those scars have bore an indelible mark on who we are as humanity; a humanity that cries out for love, who looks countless places to fill the voids left by lack of relationship, or relationship that was not as it should have been.

If we are ever going to effect the change we say we want in the Church of the 21st century, we have to realize that we will never know how to love horizontally (other people) before we know how to love vertically (our Heavenly Father). We have to first love God before we can love others. This is the reason for so many shallow relationships in the world, but are we also making it the norm inside the Church? As time has progressed, we have become more impersonal, rather than doing life together, sharing in community, and looking out for our fellow man. We have not been a community like the prophet Nehemiah spoke about. We are not standing on the wall, ready to lift up our brothers and sisters when they fall. We’ve allowed gaps, entertained a divisive spirit, and looked out for ourselves, rather than helping one another and lifting each other up in love.

We are the body of Christ; we should act like it. The book of Acts illustrated a culture of community that wasn’t forced. Relationship was formed as a result of a desire for fellowship. We are most effective when we come together. In the spirit of fellowship and community is where we will thrive in truly fulfilling everything Christ has commanded us to be. It’s when we change our outlook on humanity that people around us will notice a love inside of us that extends beyond the differences that separate us. It is only then that true reconciliation with our fellow man can take place, and we can who God called us to be.

Rob Bell’s Confession of Faith

A little postscript to last week’s blog, “The Simplicity of the Gospel”.

The simplicity of the Gospel

I’ve debated on how many different ways to present this. I’ve got friends, acquaintances, and peers on both sides of the current hot button debate going on regarding that pastor from the Midwest who wrote that book. I care for both, but I continue to see the shots volleyed back and forth.

I try to steer clear of the debate now. Most of the time I fail.

But it got me thinking about the things we do, say, write, and the things we believe about those who say they believe in Christ, some of which was prompted by a great blog bost from Matthew Turner regarding a Driscoll video from this weekend. So I’ll just pose it this way.

When, in the last 2000 years was saying,

“Do I believe in heaven? Yes.”
“Do I believe in hell? Yes.”
“Do I believe in heaven after death? Yes.”
“Do I believe in hell after death? Yes.”
“Do I believe in the Bible? Yes.”
“I believe Jesus is the Son of God.”
“I affirm the Trinity.”
“I believe Jesus died on a cross, and was resurrected 3 days later.”
“I believe Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

NOT enough proof that one is a follower of Christ??

Is it that he doesn’t exegesis deeply enough exactly what all that means, using multiple Scripture references, then cross-referencing the references with more references? Is it that he doesn’t say it exactly the way you, I, or countless theologians, scholars, pastors, and “church folk” over the decades and centuries have said it? Is it that he writes in a style

that is visibly


and only
fills a page with

100 words?

Is it his delivery? His prose? The fact that he calls the Holy Spirit an “essence” and not the Holy Ghost?

Some people are pastors. That’s it. That’s what they do. They pastor. Rob Bell is a:

and, yes, a performer.

Most can’t reconcile those things. So we’ve got questions being asked that people don’t want to confront. It rubs against their religious grain. Part of the bubble of Christendom that exists in 2011, though, is that if I don’t like you asking the questions you ask, I can claim you’re crazy, liberal, a universalist, or…..a heretic. Where does the bubble mentality come in? It comes in by acting like those questions DON’T need to be addressed, or feeling threatened because they are (or because of who’s doing the asking). Know this: the questions are being asked, by people inside and outside the Church, and they were being asked long before a pastor from Grand Rapids wrote a book about it.

At the core, though, is this truth, which I eluded to in my previous post; God’s sovereignty is no less God’s sovereignty because questions are asked, or because someone writes a book, does an interview on national TV, or goes out on a book tour. God is still God, and He knows what’s going on. Somewhere amongst the co-opting of verses about how we as Christians have a right to “call out false teaching”, and post “timely” sermons online addressing Heaven and Hell, I believe that God is still there, over all creation saying, “I got this.”

And I think the same thing will be true then, that was true a week and a half ago when I reviewed “Love Wins”. Anything that is false, that flies against God’s word and is contrary to His ways, will fall aside and wither away. In the meantime, fearing the dialogue is little more than a reactionary response to something you claim doesn’t have the feet to stand in the first place. And wouldn’t that time be better spent doing something more productive?

Review of Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”

DISCLAIMER: My intent here is to satisfy the requests I got for my take on the book. I welcome discussion, and value the input of anyone who would take the time to read this post, or the book itself. -Jeff

So, Love Wins. Heard of it?

For weeks now, controversy has swirled, whirled, and convulsed all over the internet about Rob Bell, heaven, Rob Bell’s theology, hell, Rob Bell’s theology, love, God, Rob Bell’s theology, and heresy. One side is calling for Bell’s head. He’s a heretic, he’s theologically unsound, and he needs to be burned at the stake (Ok, maybe not that far. Maybe.) The other side agrees with him, agrees with his assessments of heaven, hell, the afterlife, and love, and doesn’t see what the fuss is about. Somewhere in the mix there are those who don’t care, but seemingly, either you love Bell, or you hate Bell. There’s very little middle ground in this debate.

One of my biggest gripes about the storm of controversy that was drummed up by John Piper’s tweet and Justin Taylor’s blog was the fact that while many… many, were passing such authoritative judgment on Bell, very, VERY few had (at least up to that point) actually read the book. Personally, I found it disheartening that so many would jump on a work they had never cracked the cover on, and if I’m being honest, it kinda made me want to jump to his defense just to be a counterbalance to all I’d heard. Instead, I tried to convey and ask that judgment be reserved for when the book actually released, and could be read by all. I saw little of that take place.

It was in this spirit (the one of actually reading it), that I decided to do a review for myself. Buying and reading the book was never an issue for me. I’ve been a regular reader of Rob Bell since the days of “Velvet Elvis”, and like many, I’ve seen his NOOMA videos, as well as his DVDs like “The God’s Aren’t Angry” and “Everything Is Spiritual”. I’ve listened to countless podcasts of his sermons as pastor of Mars Hill Church, and even had the opportunity to briefly meet him during his “Drops Like Stars” tour two years ago.

I say all that to say this: in this discussion/debate/argument, make no mistake; everyone is coming in with preconceived ideas and notions. If you weren’t a Rob Bell fan before, you just got 200 pages worth of material by which to further dissect him, his theological stance, and whether or not what he’s posing in his books/sermons/videos/lectures should be considered heresy. If you were a Rob Bell fan, you’re probably approaching this book with similar intent to his previous work, and likely with more grace and latitude. That’s not to say that being a detractor of Bell equates to being grace-less, although, in this specific instance, I personally saw little evidence to refute that point.

As someone who’s more often than not fallen to the “grace” side of Bell’s books, teaching, theological stance, I didn’t want to discount the countless warnings (and judgments) being cast by my friends and acquaintances who were more critical of “Love Wins”. It was in this spirit (and the fact that numerous peers asked my opinion of the book) that I decided to not only read it for myself, but also comment on it.

I’ve kicked around the best way to try approaching this book to accurately and succinctly convey not only what I believe Bell is trying to get across in the book, but also my thoughts as well. The best way I can think to approach it is to pick out some main points that he’s driving at and address those. This is not an exhaustive review, and there’s likely going to be many points I don’t cover here. My intent isn’t to cover everything, but to point out my interpretation of some of the more pressing issues. In the process, there may be some spoilers.

There. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Kevin DeYoung posted a 20-page dissertation on “Love Wins”, viewed many I spoke to as a level-headed, impartial approach to a book so many find contentious to the Christian faith. In the beginning he states, “This is a theological book by a pastor trying to impart a different way of looking at heaven and hell.” I could not agree more. Anyone who’s followed Bell or read his books knows that Rob Bell EXCELS at viewing Christianity through a different lens. He typically takes Christian thoughts and ideas, and much of what evangelical Christianity has accepted as the status quo of systematic theology, and turned it on its ear. That’s not to say he has tried re-inventing Christianity, but he approaches topics from different angles than typical apologists and theologians have. Sometimes it garners praise; most of the time, criticism. I’ve said it numerous times in conversations, and I will say it here: Rob Bell is criticized most often for what he doesn’t say, rather than what he does.

The first chapter asks the questions posed through Bell’s preview video, as well as some of what was spelled out in interviews preceding the book’s release. Much of it had to do with our view of Jesus, as well as culture’s view of Jesus. A perfect example would be talking about the non-Christian who was invited to church, only to reveal that “Christians” had rounded up all the Muslims in the eastern European village he was from, herded them into a building, and shot them. Or the woman who grew up in a home under the hand of family members who sexually molested her while reciting prayers and hymns. I believe the book, and Bell, ask valid questions about this, as so much of what people believe about Jesus is shaped by what they experience of those who call themselves “Christian”, and there’s no doubt that for as many are wonderful ambassadors for the name and sake of Christ, there will always exist those doing things “in the name of”, who will do more harm than good in the name of “Christ”. It’s vital to address these issues and mindsets, because it is a reality.

Bell goes on in the chapter to ask what exactly it is that saves you. While this can seem contentious or treading on dangerous ground regarding the atonement and work of the Cross, I believe it injects important thoughts into the dialogue of redemption, showing passage after passage recounting Jesus’ interaction with humanity during his time on earth.

The question of hell has probably been one of the hottest talking points of this whole discussion. Even Rob Bell, on the Sunday before the book released, spoke to the members of his church and stated, unequivocally,

“Am I a universalist? No. Do I believe in heaven? Yes. Do I believe in hell? Yes. Do I believe in heaven after death? Yes. Do I believe in hell after death? Yes. Do I believe in the Bible? Yes.” (emphasis mine)

Without a doubt, Bell was trying to get a point across. That point, however, never alluded to a stance of “no literal hell”. Again, Bell, in 32 pages, never once asserted that there is no hell in the afterlife. What he did do, however, was list reference after reference of mentions in the Bible on the topic, giving historical and cultural context, especially in the case of the words of Christ. I believe this is also where Bell’s Arminian (or “free will”, for those not familiar with the sides involved) roots start to come to the surface.

Bell is very clear here: He wholeheartedly, undeniably, believes that we choose to accept or reject Christ. There are many theological streams that come into the picture here, all falling under the banner of the free will/predestination discussion. Do we choose God, or does He choose us? Do we choose to reject Him, and by doing so, heap upon ourselves the result of separation from God? Does God pursue those He calls relentlessly until they surrender to Him?

Beyond that, though, a thought is presented that has brought both criticism and praise. What if *some* of what we consider “hell” is the injustice that goes on in the here and now? No doubt this may be where part of the problem lies in how Bell is interpreted by different sides. If you know of Bell’s work, it’s no surprise that there is a component of what he does that ties very closely in with social justice. In these pages, not only does Bell spell this out, but he spells it out while still acknowledging the real, literal hell to come. From the book,

“There are individual hells, and communal, societal-wide hells, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously. There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.” (pg. 79)

Clearly he is not discounting one or the other, but just as in the chapter on heaven, he is unpacking that part of heaven is bringing some of heaven to earth in actions that are Christ-like, just as part of hell involves actions that are part of the fall, sinful in their existence, and against everything Christ is or wants us to be.

Easily the most problematic chapter for me, and honestly I feel extremely unqualified to defend of dissect exactly what Bell is saying here without much more thought, study and research than finishing the book 24 hours ago will allow. Bell poses many questions here, but chief among them is this: Can a person be relegated to an “in this life only” decision to accept or reject Christ? Do you get another chance after you die? If so, how many opportunities? And for how long?

I find myself asking few, if any, of those questions. This delves far deeper into realms I think are more of an excuse to not critically examine oneself in the light of Christ, and rather ask “If I do get to choose, how long can I wait?” It does very little in helping navigate questions of faith and knowing God, and instead comes off as a proverbial “what if” of when salvation through faith in Christ is possible. I don’t disparage the question being asked though, as I personally don’t think many will sway to these extremes regarding sanctification. It smacks to me of the hyper-Calvinist approach to evangelizing that says, “It doesn’t matter who I share the Gospel with, because God’s going to choose or not choose them.” Whether you believe God chooses people or not does not negate your responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission, and whether or not you think there is validity to Bell’s question of the timeline of choice doesn’t negate your responsibility to choose Him (if indeed you believe it is your choice). The one thing I would say though, purely from conjecture, is that it seems Bell might be approaching these questions from a desire, based on his interpretation of Scripture that no one is left out, and that God’s desire is that “all would come to repentance.” Still, that leaves out the idea of accepting or rejecting Christ’s gift of salvation (or being elect), which seems less practical when tested against Scripture, and more of a “pie in the sky” idea of sanctification.

Again here we also see the idea of choice come into play, as Bell discusses our freedom to accept or reject Christ, when he says,

“Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.” (pg. 113)

Obviously Bell is, again, coming from a free-will perspective, one that says we can freely and openly reject God’s gift of salvation offered through the Cross. Ultimately, Bell contends, “Love Wins” because God loves us and gives us the freedom to choose. And because that freedom is demanded by love, we can have what we want, be it heaven, or hell. There’s much more here, but there’s more to talk about.

Bell uses the story from Exodus about Moses striking the rock to bring forth water, and then parallels it with Paul’s mention of it in one of his letters to the Corinthians, and how that rock was a symbol of Christ. He recounts numerous stories of different ways people have come to Christ, including a drug user and someone with a near-death experience who both turned their lives over to Christ. Taking a macro approach to the chapter, I’m not sure what (if any) fuss there was in what Bell is saying. He sums up the chapter in three (basically) brief points at the end.

1. Don’t be surprised at how/when/where people stumble upon the mystery of Christ, even when they aren’t necessarily looking, and don’t get offended when they use the exact language or terminology we (as Christians) use. As Bell puts it, “People come to Jesus all sorts of ways.” This isn’t a universalist creed of “all roads lead to heaven”, rather, it is the idea that all of our stories of a salvation experience are unique and diverse, all showing God’s grace and forgiveness.

2. None of us have cornered the market on Jesus, and none of us ever will. I would hope, since we know that we can know Him, but not exhaustively (after all, we are finite while He is infinite), we would agree on this point, regardless of background.

3. It is our responsibility to be extremely careful about making negative, decisive, lasting judgments about people’s eternal destinies.

I would sincerely, sincerely hope that on that third point we could see more unity in the body of Christ than dissension. But in every case, there are valid ideas presented. How many times have we looked down on someone because they didn’t understand the “Christianese” we speak to one another? How many times have you corrected someone for using a term, in your head if not out loud, because it didn’t match up with “the lingo”? And is it really impossible to think of a way that an individual can come to Christ? If we say “all things are possible with God”, doesn’t that mean that….ALL things are possible with God? Can any of us really say we know all there is to know about the mystery of Christ? Even the Apostle Paul makes mention of this mystery. And finally, do any of us really know with certainty what eternity waits a person when they die? Is it even for us to say? It’s not a matter of a discussion about where you go when you die, or what happens after we leave this temporal flesh. It has everything to do with matters of the heart, and the inward things we can’t see about each other while we judge the exterior things we can see.

Anyone who’s read “Velvet Elvis” knows this chapter already. In “Velvet Elvis”, Rob Bell states the following:

“Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God’s.” – p. 146

This is the heart of the chapter, and if you’ve read “Velvet Elvis”, you know that much of what he’s saying here is an expounding on what he said in that book. This causes monumental problems in many camps, as it jumps headfirst into the discussion of penal substitutionary atonement (that is, that Christ bore on Himself the iniquity of us all). I’ll be honest in telling you that I’m still digging around in this point of Bell’s book more than anything else, because I want to fully grasp and comprehend what he is saying, rather than take what either side asserts and embrace it as my own. Herein lies the point of contention from the book, as well as the counter-point to what Bell has said, provided from Kevin DeYoung’s review.

““Let’s be very clear, then,” Bell states, “we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer.” (pg. 182) I see no place in Bell’s theology for Christ the curse-bearer (Gal. 3:13), or Christ wounded for our transgressions and crushed by God for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5, 10), no place for the Son of Man who gave his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), no place for the Savior who was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), no place for the sorrowful suffering Servant who drank the bitter cup of God’s wrath for our sake (Mark 14:36).”

I’m not entirely sure I follow there, as I view this a bit differently than DeYoung. I see it that because God rescues us, He provided a sacrifice in His Son that was the curse-bearer, wounded for our transgressions, gave His life as a ransom for many, etc. It’s not in spite of this that He rescues us, it’s because of it. I do, however, understand the assertion that “not needing to be rescued from God” lends itself to a God who is not full of wrath for sin and wrong, which is where the jury is still out in regards to Bell and what he puts forth here. Still, it seems a finer point of a more basic theological debate between limited and unlimited atonement, and one that involves more reading into than actual poor theology. I’m no theologian, though, and so I give myself the space to be wrong here. As I hear this point discussed, though, it definitely seems to come down to a reformed/non-reformed theological point. I’ve not heard many outside reformed circles take issue with this point. I’ve heard tons of reformed guys take issue. That’s not a criticism, only an observation.

Bell contends (based in his belief in unlimited atonement) that Jesus died for all, regardless of if they acknowledge Him or not. This has been a point of contention since “Velvet Elvis” came out, and will continue on long after this book is no longer discussed on a daily basis on the internet. The argument comes from two different camps in Christendom. It isn’t the first time atonement has been debated, and it won’t be the last.

I walked away from “Love Wins” neither embracing every page, nor rending my clothes in disgust. I think he has asked questions that we need not be afraid of, and even some questions that NEED to be asked. The thing about Rob Bell is that he’s not just the pastor of a church. He’s an artist, he’s a poet, and he’s speaker. When you put that combination of expressions together, things become less straight-forward. Some cannot reconcile that. I’m not defending it, and I’m not saying its right, I’m saying it happens. Bell has always had a flair for the artistic (NOOMA anyone?), so for him to ask left-of-center questions should come as a shock to no one. To hear him phrase things in such a way as to rub against the grain of the “ordinary” should come as a shock to no one. It’s Rob Bell, it’s how he’s always been, and he’s not likely to change anytime soon in that regard.

I have wondered numerous times in the last few weeks, though, if this is, at its base, a question of free will vs. predestination. I think it’s more accurate to say that it’s a question of reformed vs. non-reformed theology. Perhaps that’s not even a correct assessment, but it’s as close as I’ve come up to this point.

I wonder what the longstanding effect of so much argument really is, or if it even does any good. It appears that neither side of the debate is going to relent, or even surrender any middle ground. But I also have to assume a few things as a result of God’s sovereignty. I have to believe that He controls all things and is in all things. Nothing comes as a surprise to Him, and anything that is not of Him will not stand. So if this age old argument and the assertions of Bell are false, will it not wither and fade away? Furthermore, if God calls whom He will, wouldn’t anyone whom He had already predestined to accept Him do so anyway, regardless of the teachings of someone like Rob Bell? To even take it a step further than that, what if any of what Bell is saying is true? It seems some of his approach is a hope that God is big enough to do all those things we would think of as unthinkable. Again, while I may not agree with everything he’s asserting, I certainly won’t disparage the asking.

Conversely though, I also wonder what impact this is having on the world outside Christianity looking in. Because again, if God chooses whom He will, His sovereignty will reign and men and women will be drawn to Him by His Spirit, regardless of the infighting we do as believers. But to a world watching the actions of those who claim to be followers of Christ, it appears, at least on the surface, to be a bunch of family arguing that results in very little. It’s a family thing, something that they cannot relate to and that they may not even understand. In the end, we’re called to be a light to those who are in need of the same grace we are, provided through Christ. Is the best way to exhibit that by fighting with one another over things we believe will wither and fade away and not stand the test of time?

9/11 nine years later

This day, perhaps more than any other for the last nine years, causes a great deal of reflection and emotions for me, as it does for thousands of others across the nation and world. I know I’m not the only one, as I scroll through blogs and status updates reading people’s reactions to this date on a Tuesday not so long ago.

I find myself watching the specials that come around every year, highlighting everything from the engineering and mechanics behind the fall of the towers, the impact of the Pentagon, and the massive kinetic energy generated by a plane being driven into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania; to the countless stories told, and sometimes retold, of final conversations with loved ones, and some retelling of the conversations they never had. I’ve lost count at this point of how many times I’ve welled up with tears, hearing the stories, and thinking with appreciation of what I would feel or say if it were me in that interview chair, talking about my wife, children, parents, or brother. Those stories fascinate me. The fortitude that most have when expressing what the day means to them never ceases to amaze me.

I didn’t know anyone who died that day personally. I do know people who have lost, though. A brother who was on the second plane that hit the South Tower. The family member who knew literally dozens of people from the firm Cantor Fitzgerald, who died in an instant when the first plane hit the North Tower, directly striking their floors. This same family member actually received a voicemail from the CFO of Cantor Fitzgerald. See, my family member was supposed to be in New York that week. Even more harrowing, he was supposed to be visiting Cantor Fitzgerald, that week, that day, that hour, performing one of his regular audits of CF. A few weeks before his planned trip, his boss here told him the trip would be delayed until October that year….a trip that would never come. Minutes before the first plane hit, though, came the voicemail. “Hey _____, sorry you couldn’t be out here this week. When you come out next month, let’s grab lunch, would love to see you.” As he watched the towers burned, he retrieved that voicemail, knowing the voice on the recording, the friend he knew along with so many others there, was now silent forever.

What I’ve had the most trouble with in the years since 9/11 has been the politicizing of the event, and the conspiracy theories. In either case, it seems to, in so many ways, cheapen the events of that day. For years, politicians have used the events of nine years ago for political gain, filling their speeches with talk of “defending freedom” and “repaying our attackers”. Conspiracy theorists argue every facet of that day’s events, from a government coverup, to supposed missles on the bottom of planes, to controlled demolitions of the WTC buildings that came down that day. All of it, again, cheapening the hurt, the loss, and the grief experienced by so many people of all nationalities, creeds, and religions.

There is something patriotic about remembering an event that left an indelible mark on a nation. There is something necessary about it as well. To not remember is to minimize the loss of so many of our fellow countrymen, both those who served by running into what everyone else ran away from, as well as those who innocently went about their day, heading off to work to provide for their families, not knowing it was a trip they would not return from. So we should always remember, and we should honor those who are no longer with us.

I’ll close this out with this entry from a year ago. I think it’s important for those of us who walk under the banner of “Christian” to remember.

Romans 12:17-21

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Quote of the day, courtesy of Walter Wink:

“In the final analysis, then, love of enemies is trusting God for the miracle of divine forgiveness. If God can forgive, redeem, and transform me, I must also believe that God can work such wonders with anyone. Love of enemies is seeing one’s oppressors through the prism of the Reign of God – not only as they now are, but also as they can become: transformed by the power of God.”

Wise words to remember today, on both counts.

Take time to say a prayer today; for the families of those who’ve experienced loss, certainly. But also for those who act out in violence, who we cannot see and do not know, but who are in need of God’s grace just as much as you and I on a daily basis.

May the pain of today be transformed in hope for tomorrow; may we share the Source of that hope, with those we love, as well as those who would mean us harm.

Christianity & Humanism

Found this in my draft folder today. Not sure where it’s even from. I can assure you I didn’t write it, although I don’t know who did. It was untitled, uncredited, pasted into a draft. Thought I would share it anyway. It’s a long, but good read. Enjoy.

The philosophy of the day became humanism and you can define humanism this way: Humanism is a philosophical statement that declares the end of all being is the happiness of man. The reason for existence is man’s happiness. Now according to humanism salvation is simply a matter of getting all the happiness you can out of life. This group of my people the fundamentalists that say:

“We believe in the inspiration of the Bible”

“We believe in the deity of Jesus Christ”

“We believe in hell, we believe in Heaven”

“We believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ”

And remember the atmosphere is that of humanism. Humanism says the chief end of being is the happiness of man. And so it wasn’t long until we had this, the fundamentalists knew each other because they said ‘We believe these things.’ They were men for the most part that had met God. But you see it wasn’t long until having said ‘these are the things that establish us as fundamentalists’, the second generation said,

“This is how we become a fundamentalist;”

“Believe in the inspiration of the Bible.”

“Believe in the deity of Christ.”

“Believe in His death, burial, and resurrection.”

And thereby become a fundamentalist. And so it wasn’t long until it got to our generation where the whole plan of salvation was to give intellectual assent to a few statements of doctrine. And a person was considered a Christian because he could say ‘Uh huh’ at 4 or 5 places that he was asked to and if he knew where to say ‘Uh huh’ someone would pat him on the back, shake his hand, smile broadly and say: “Brother, you’re saved.”

And so it had gotten down to the place where salvation was nothing more than an assent to a scheme or a formula. And the end of this salvation was the happiness of man because humanism has penetrated. And so if you were to analyze the fundamentalism in contrast to liberalism of a hundred years ago, as it developed, it’d be like this:

The liberal says the end of religion is to make man happy while he’s alive.

And the fundamentalist says the end of religion is to make man happy when he dies.

Until we find something like this; “Accept Jesus so you can go to Heaven, you don’t want to go to that old, filthy, nasty, burning hell when there’s a beautiful Heaven up there. Now come to Jesus so that you can go to Heaven.” And the appeal could be as much to selfishness as a couple of men sitting in a coffee shop deciding they are going to rob a bank to get something for nothing. It becomes so subtle … it goes everywhere. What is it? In essence it is this: that this philosophical postulate that the end of all being is the happiness of man has been sort of, covered over with evangelical terms and Biblical doctrine until God reigns in Heaven for the happiness of man, Jesus Christ was incarnate for the happiness of man, all the Angels exist in the… Everything is for the happiness of man! And I submit to you that this is un-Christian!

Christianity says… “The end of all being is the glory of God.”

Humanism says, “The end of all being is the happiness of man.”

This is the betrayal of the ages!! And it’s the betrayal in which we live and I don’t see how God can revive it! Until we come back to Christianity. Isn’t man happy? And God intends to make you happy. But as a by-product and not a prime product. Now I ask you, what is the philosophy of mission? What is the philosophy of evangelism? What is the philosophy of a Christian? If you’ll ask me why I went to Africa, I’ll tell you I went primarily, to improve on the justice of God. I didn’t think it was right for anybody to go to hell without a chance to be saved. And so I went to give poor sinners a chance to go to Heaven. Now, I hadn’t put it in so many words. But if you’ll analyze what I just told you, do you know what it is? It’s humanism. But I was simply using the provisions of Jesus Christ as a means to improve upon human conditions of suffering and misery. And when I got to Africa, I discovered that they weren’t poor, ignorant, little heathen running around in the woods, waiting for someone to tell them how to go to Heaven. That they were monsters of iniquity. They were living in utter and total defiance, of far more knowledge of God than I ever dreamed they had. They deserved hell because they utterly refused to walk in the light of their conscience and the light of the law written upon their heart and the testimony of nature and the truth they knew. And when I found that out, I assure you, I was so angry with God that one occasion in prayer, I told him that it was a mighty, little thing He’d done, sending me out there to reach these people that were waiting to be told how to go to Heaven and when I got there I found out they knew about Heaven and didn’t wanna go there. And they loved their sin and wanted to stay in it. I went out there motivated by humanism. I’d seen pictures of lepers. I’d seen pictures of ulcers. I’d see pictures of native funerals. And I didn’t want my fellow human beings to suffer in hell eternally, after such a miserable existence on earth. But it was there in Africa that God began to tear through the overlay of this humanism. And it was that day in my bedroom, with the door locked, that I wrestled with God. I was coming to grips with the fact that the people I thought were ignorant and wanted to know how to go to Heaven, and were saying “someone come and teach us” actually didn’t wanna take time to talk with me or anybody else. They had no interest in the bible and no interest in Christ. And they loved their sin and wanted to continue in it. And I was to the place at that time where I felt the whole thing was a sham and a mockery and I’d been sold a bill of goods. And I wanted to come home. And there alone in my bedroom as I faced God honestly with what my heart felt, it seemed to me I heard Him say, “Yes, will not the Judge of all the earth do right? The heathen are lost and they’re going to go to hell not because they haven’t heard the gospel. They’re going to go to hell because they are sinners who loved… their ..sin.. and because they deserved hell. But, I didn’t send you out there for them, I didn’t send you out there for their sakes.”

And I heard as clearly as I’ve ever heard though it wasn’t with physical voice but it was the echo of truth of the ages finding its way into an open heart. I heard God say to my heart that day something like this:

“I didn’t send you to Africa for the sake of the heathen. I sent you to Africa for My sake. They deserved hell but I love them and I endured the agonies of hell for them. I didn’t send you out there for them. I sent you out there for Me. Do I not deserve the reward of My suffering? Don’t I deserve those for whom I died?”

And it reversed it all. It changed it all and righted it all. And I wasn’t any longer working for my cup and ten shekels and a shirt but I was serving the living God.

Why did you repent? I’d like to see some people repent on biblical terms again. You see the difference? The difference is here’s somebody trembling because he’s gonna be hurt in hell. And he has no sense of the enormity of his guilt and no sense of the enormity of his crimes and no sense of his insult against Deity. He’s only trembling because his skin is about to be singed. And this is the difference between 20th century preaching and the preaching of John Wesley. Wesley was a preacher of righteousness that exalted the holiness of God. And when he would stand there with the two to three-hour sermons that he was accustomed to deliver in the open air and he would exalt the holiness of God and the law of God and the righteousness of God and the justice of God and the wisdom of His requirements and the justice of His wrath and His anger and then he would turn to sinners and tell them of the enormity of their crimes and their open rebellion and their treason and their anarchy. The power of God would so descend upon the company that on one occasion it is reliably reported that when the people dispersed, there were 1,800 people lying on the ground utterly unconscious because they’d had a revelation of the holiness of God and in the light of that, they’d seen the enormity of their sin. And God had so penetrated their minds and hearts that they had fallen to the ground. It wasn’t trying to convince good man that he was in trouble with a bad God. But that it was to convince bad men

that they deserved the wrath and anger of a good God.

I have talked with people that have no assurance of sins forgiven. They wanna feel saved before they’re willing to commit themselves to Christ. But I believe that the only ones whom God actually witnesses by His Spirit are born of Him, are the people whether they say it or not, that come to Jesus Christ and say something like this: “Lord Jesus, I’m gonna obey You and love You and serve You and do what You want me to do as long as I live even if I go to hell at the end of the road simply because You are worthy to be loved, obeyed and served. And I’m not trying to make a deal with You.” But oh I know so many people that are trying to know the fullness of God, so that they can use God. A young preacher came to me down in Huntington, West Virginia. And he said “I’ve got a great church. We’ve got a wonderful Sunday school a radio ministry..growing. But I feel a personal need and a personal lack, I need to be baptized of the Holy Ghost, I need to be filled with the Spirit, and someone told me God done something for you. And I wanted you to help me.”

I looked at the fellow and you know what he looked like? Me. Just looked like me. I just saw in him everything that was in me, you thought … You thought I was going to say “me before”. No, listen to your heart. If you’ve ever seen yourself you’ll know that you’re never gonna be anything else than you were. For in me in my flesh, there is no good thing. But like me. He’s like a fellow driving up in a big Cadillac you know, to someone standing at a filling station saying “Fill her up, Bud, with the highest octane you got.” Well, that’s the way it looked, he wanted power for his program. And God is not going to be a means to anyone’s end. I said, “I’m awfully sorry, I don’t think I can help you.” He said “Why?” “I don’t think you’re ready. Well suppose, you consider yourself coming up with a Cadillac, you’ve talked about your program, you’ve talked about your radio, you’ve talked about your Sunday school and church. Very good. You’ve done wonderfully well without the power of the Holy Spirit.” That’s what the Chinese Christian said you know when he got back to China. “What impressed you most about America?” He said, “The great things Americans can accomplish without God.” And he’d accomplished a great deal, admittedly, without God. And now he’s wanting something, power, to accomplish his end even further. I said “No. No. You’re sitting behind the wheel and you’re saying to God, ‘Give me power so I can go.’ It won’t work, you gotta slide over.” But I knew that rascal, ’cause I knew me. I said, “No it’ll never do. You gotta get in the back seat.” And I could see him leaning over and grabbing the wheel. “No,” I said. “It’ll never do in the back seat.” I said “Before God’ll do anything for you, you know what you gotta do?” And he said, “What?” I said, “You gotta get out of the car, take the keys around, open up the trunk lid, hand the keys to the Lord Jesus, get inside the trunk, slam the lid down, whisper through the keyhole, ‘Lord, look, fill her up with anything You want and You drive, it’s up to You from now on.’” That’s why so many people, you know, do not enter into the fullness of Christ because they want to become a Levite with ten shekels and a shirt. They’ve been serving Micah but they think if they had the power of the Holy Ghost they could serve the tribe of Dan. It will never work, never work. There’s only one reason for God meeting you, and that’s to bring you to the place where, in repentance, you’ve been pardoned for His glory, and in victory, you’ve been brought to the place of death that He might reign and in His fullness Jesus Christ is able to live and walk in you. And your attitude is the attitude of the Lord Himself, who said, “I could do nothing of Myself.”

I can’t speak of myself. I don’t make plans for myself. My only reason for being is the glory of God in Jesus Christ. If I were to say to you: “Come, to be saved so you can go to Heaven; Come to the cross so that you can have joy and victory. Come for the fullness of the Spirit so that you can be satisfied.” I’d be falling into the trap of humanism. I’m going to say to you, dear friend, if you are out here without Christ, you come to Jesus Christ and serve Him as long as you live whether you go to hell at the end of the way because He’s worthy. I say to you, Christian friend, you come to the cross and join Him in union and death and enter into all the meaning of death to self, in order that He can have glory. I say to you, dear Christian, if you do not know the fullness of the Holy Ghost, come and present your body a living sacrifice and let Him fill you so that He can have the purpose for His coming fulfilled in you and get glory through your life. It’s not what you’re going to get out of God. It’s what He is going to get out of you. Let’s be done once and for all with utilitarian Christianity that makes God a means, instead of the glorious end that He is. Let’s resign. Let’s tell Micah we’re through. We’re no longer gonna be as priests serving for ten shekels and a shirt. Let’s tell the tribe of Dan we’re through. And let’s come and cast ourselves at the feet of the nail-pierced Son of God and tell Him that we’re gonna obey Him, and love Him and serve Him as long as we live because He is worthy. Two young Moravians heard of an island in the West Indies, where an atheist British owner had 2,000 to 3,000 slaves. And the owner had said, “No preacher, no clergyman will ever stay on this island. If he’s shipwrecked, we’ll keep him in a separate house until he has to leave but he’s never gonna talk to any of us about God. I’m through with all that nonsense.” Three thousand slaves from the jungles of Africa brought to an island in the Atlantic and there to live and die without hearing of Christ. Two young Moravians heard about it. They sold themselves to the British planter then used the money they received from the sale, for he paid no more than he would for any slave, to pay their passage out to his island for he wouldn’t even transport them.

And as the ship left the …river at Hamburg …left its pier at the river at Hamburg and was going out to the North Sea, carried with the tide. The Moravians had come from Herrnhut to see these two lads off, in their early twenties, never to return again. For this wasn’t a four-year term, they’d sold themselves into lifetime of slavery. Simply that as slaves they could be as Christians for these others were.

The families were there weeping for they knew they’d never see them again. And they wondered why they’re going and questioned the wisdom of it. And as the gap widened and the houses had been cast off and were being curled up there on the pier. And the young boys saw the widening gap, one lad, with his arm linked through the arm of his fellow, raised his hand and shouted across the gap the last words that were heard from them. They were these: “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering” And this became the call of Moravian missions. And this is the only reason for being, that the Lamb that was slain may receive the reward of His suffering.

Understanding the mind of God

I’ve tried to think of a million different ways to convey this thought, but have erased it at least 3 times now.

I’ll leave it at this…..sometimes, I just don’t understand God’s plans. I don’t understand why tonight, someone who is young, who has a lifetime in front of her, and who has given her life in service to her Creator, is literally hours from going to meet Him because of cancer that is ravaging her body.

I don’t understand why, in the last 4 months, I’ve heard of no less than 5 people, both personally and publicly, who have either been diagnosed with, are currently battling, or have passed away from some terminal disease; all of whom have committed their lives to furthering His kingdom.

I know the theology. I know that “all things work together for good.” I know all the verses we comfortably quote when we are standing outside a situation and don’t feel it’s sting.

I’m just confessing to you that right now, I don’t get it. I love God, I know I can never fully understand His ways, and I accept that. In this moment, I just wish I had a little better grasp on it.

What if Jesus meant all that stuff

Great letter from Shane Claiborne in Esquire magazine. You can read it here.