Monday, May 31, 2010

Coming and Going

The end of the school year is upon us. It makes me want to reflect back on what kind of school year it has been. On the other hand, summer plans need to be finalized and much could be said about what we have to look forward to. On a third hand, which I do not have, there is something to be said about life on this day.

Honestly, with school year schedules going and summer schedules coming (hello sandals, I’ve missed you) it is a little bit crazy for me to try and focus on just one thing right now. Plus I have just finished two books with contrasting styles and opinions on matters of faith. (In case you're wondering, Who Really Goes to Hell and The Naked Gospel.) The books, which both were well written and focused in on the cores of our faith, have been a good exercise for me.

While one made me hurt inside, the other gave me fresh insight. But you can’t judge truth by how it makes you feel. Truth is truth, whether we recognize it or not. That’s a little off my point, which is to say my current reading and my current schedule have me looking both ways before I cross. I suppose I could imitate the Apostle Paul who forgot what was behind and pressed on toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:12-14).

The truth is that these are good days for me. I am challenged at work, though not exasperated. I have experienced success (however that is defined) in ministry and I have also experienced some pain.

With that in mind we also need to forget what was behind. When Paul did that, he was not just forgetting pain. He was forgetting anything in the past and moving towards genuine life in Jesus Christ. We would be wise to do the same.

So, in my small attempt to add to your summer plans, I encourage you to do 3 things.
1. Crack open some books and expand your horizon.
2. Review your last 9 months and thank God for what He has done.
3. Now forget the last 9 months and go out and live the next 3.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pucker Up

A kiss is a very personal thing. After all, if you allow someone else that close to your face, you should probably know them. And if you know them, you should probably ask before you just start kissing. Even as a married man I've learned that lesson the hard way. It's not that she has to be asked, but if she doesn't know it's coming, she could mistake my face for an enemy target. She consistently blames 'the war', though I'm pretty sure she's never been in combat. Maybe I'm wrong.

Why all this talk about kissing? Because of Proverbs 24:26. "An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips." I guess an honest answer could be like a kiss on the lips. On the other hand, a blunt response is like an upper cut to the chin. The answers to the following questions are examples;

Do you like this outfit?
Do you think I'm smart/fat/attractive/fun?

As I think about it, anytime we hear a question start with, 'Now tell me the truth...', it's probably an occasion when an honest answer may not exactly feel like a kiss. And that is unfortunate. It seems like this proverb rests on two important values. First, do we actually value truth? Second, do we find our significance in our relationship with God and nothing else? Answer no to either of these and honest answers will feel like sharp sticks in the eye.

I am trying to honestly answer yes to both of those questions every day. And through my writing, I hope to give each of you a kiss. So, pucker up.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Book Review: Who Really Goes to Hell (Part 2)

Some of you may know that I blog for books. It connects me with books and authors I might not otherwise read. In the case of David Rudel's book Who Really Goes to Hell, I received two copies. I passed one on to my good friend Bryon. What follows are his very astute observations.

The following is my review of Who Really Goes to Hell? by David Rudel. I’ll say up front that I did enjoy the challenge of a different perspective on this subject. This book definitely made me open my Bible and ponder some serious questions. However, although the underlying question of “Who really goes to hell?” is a good one, and worthy of discussion, I believe Rudel’s reasoning is erroneous and I warn those who desire to read this book to read it with caution.

At the core of Rudel’s message is a system of works. He interprets the emphasis of what Jesus did as having an effect in this life only, breaking the shackels of slavery to sin off of the believer by taking away the dominating power of sin. He presents the work of God in Christ as something that makes a believer stronger and more able to combat sin in this life, but not sufficient to rescue the believer from hell. Being rescued from hell, according to Rudel, is based upon obedience to Jesus’ commands. He states that a person who believes that Jesus is the Christ, who repents and who even receives the Holy Spirit, can lose their inheritance in God through disobedience.

I am not at all diminishing the importance of obedience, for I wholeheartedly believe that if a believer loves Jesus, then that believer will obey his commands (John 14:15). But I also believe 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The question to me is, did Jesus pay for our sins or not? If indeed Jesus was made sin for us, was crucified and died, and was raised by God as victorious over sin, then what charge is against the believer who places their faith in that work? The sin is gone, paid for, and separated from the believer as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). And if that sin is gone, than I am saved from eternal damnation as much or more as I am saved from sin’s power in this temporary life.

I in no way mean to be disrespectful to Rudel, but I believe false teaching should be called as such. In my opinion, Rudel did not back up his presentation with correct interpretation of scripture. I believe Rudel’s reasoning is erroneous because it diminishes Christ and what he accomplished. It strips God of the power to save his children from his own judgement and places that power in the will of human beings. That should make any honest person very uncomfortable. I agree with the Apostle Paul when he says “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a) If Christ cannot save me from eternal damnation, then I am doomed. I am thankful to God that Rudel’s interpretation is wrong.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Book Review: The Naked Gospel

Let's suppose you know what grace is. Let's further suppose that you even fall closer to grace than works on that grand debate. If you've ever said "God, I understand your grace. Thanks. What's next?", then I have a must read for you.

It's called The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley. It's subtitle is 'the truth you may never hear in church'. While the subject of grace is certainly heard in church, I suppose Andrew may be correct. The level to which he takes grace could take much longer to preach and teach than most pastors are willing to give to one topic.

And that's too bad.

This book hits hard and honest on Grace and all of its questions, problems, balancing acts, scripture verses, applications and implications. Drawing largely from the book of Hebrews, Andrew brings to light God's economy of grace and why the blood payment of Jesus issued in the New Covenant. It should change everything and it does change everything.

In one chapter he talks about conversing with a friend in college. "I don't really know how to explain it. But the real thing isn't about trying hard to act differently. Becoming a Christian is like dying and waking up the next day as a totally new person." Six months later his friend recounts how he thought about that and asked God to kill him. Andrew admits that "God, kill me" isn't your typical salvation prayer, but that is what this is about.

It could easily be said that the topic is too elementary to visit again. After all, shouldn't we understand grace? I say this topic should be revisited over and again because this is foundational truth meant for or hearts and minds. As Jesus taught with the men who built homes on rock and sand, respectively, foundation makes all the difference.

Are you ready to see the difference between Old and New. Then get yourself a copy of this book.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Best Verse for Children

Many people will tell you that Proverbs 22:6 is a great verse when it comes to parenting children. Sure, train a child now and hold your breath later. I believe the truth of this verse, but I think Solomon upped the wisdom 2 chapters earlier when he wrote Proverbs 20:30.

The Contemporary English version puts a bit more stank on it; "A severe beating will knock all the evil out of you." I like that so much that I had it put on a stick that I carry around with me. I use it with my children (the Bible verse, not the stick). I even use it with the teens I work with (the stick, not the Bible verse).

I know some 'experts' will tell you that a gentle answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). And sure, Teddy Roosevelt said to walk softly and carry a big stick. Then again, Tony Stark (Iron Man) said that the best weapon is the one you only have to fire once.

My daughter's second grade teacher, when getting the attention of her class, would softly say, 'If you can hear my voice, clap once.' That seemed to work. But others I know don't believe you can be heard unless you're louder than those you're attempting to communicate with. Personally, I kind of think the stick speaks for itself.

I've heard plenty a youth pastor exclaim that you have to make an example out of one of them. That's why, several years ago, I shaved 3 of the teens at a youth meeting. Now when I threaten to shave somebody bald, they know it has been done.

I guess the bottom line for me is that there's no better segue to speaking about suffering for Jesus than preceding your lesson with a good old-fashioned beat down.

So what do you think? Is it Proverbs 22:6 or Proverbs 20:30?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What if...?

Jacie has many great characteristics, none the least of which is having me for a dad. But there is something which she picked up from her mother. Jennifer has this knack for wondering what could go wrong in a situation. In fact, she's working on a book called What to Suspect When You're Suspecting. I'm sure it'll be a best seller for psychiatrists and counselors around the world.

Jacie would easily fit in the category of people who watch a report on a measles outbreak and then start to itch. Recently her sister was sick and dehydrated. We had to admit her in a hospital to get her back to form. Involved with that was an IV pumping fluids into her body. Then this conversation;

Jacie: What's that in her arm?
Mom: It's an IV, giving Jerica fluids to make her better.
Jacie: Will I have to have an IV?
Mom: Are you sick?
Jacie: No, but what if I get sick some day and need an IV. (Tears) I don't want an IV.

It's the sinking suspicion that someday, somewhere, something will go wrong. At least Jacie will be prepared for it. Ok, Jacie is an easy target on this thing the Bible calls worry, but how are you doing? Do you find yourself fretting over situations that have not happened and may never happen?

I'm pretty sure this is what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 6:25-34. I'm fairly certain that He said there was no point and no profit. Plus, it shows no trust in our Father. If you're reading this and you start to worry if you'll be able to kick the habit of worrying, you should probably go back and read Jesus' words.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book Review: Who Really Goes to Hell?

Have you ever considered how you would respond to an entirely new religion? What if someone (and by someone I mean someone respectable and believable) came along and told us that God had spoke to him and given him the real truth behind life and love and other mysteries? Obviously we can rule out people looking for spaceships behind comets, men wielding guns instead of knowledge and the guy at school who uses 'dude' as an exclamation point.

Most of you will read that first paragraph and answer that you believe God has already revealed the answers in the form of Jesus. And I would agree. But what if the traditional interpretations for what Jesus said were incorrect? I don't mean by a mile, although that should be considered as well.

If you care to continue with this logic, then you should probably pick up a copy of Who Really Goes to Hell? by David I Rudel. The subtitle, a lengthy one, says it all;
The Gospel You've Never Heard,
What a Protestant Bible written by Jews says about God's work through Christ
(A book for those in the church and those offended by it)

In essence, David tells us that we (those of living in the USA in 2010) have presupposed what 1st century Jews meant based on our culture. Sure, we understand that farming analogies given by Jesus weren't based on farms with combines, but what about our understanding of their viewpoints, their language and their beliefs?

A change here and perhaps a tweak there and we are left with some problems concerning the good news we share with people. Allowing this post to be a mere review is difficult, given the topic. David has admitted to writing a difficult book. But he supports almost every thought with scripture, giving us historical facts of Bible times as well as etymology.

While reading this book has been a struggle, due to its nature and content, David writes well and I highly recommend it. In the epilogue, he writes candidly that while many may not agree with everything he has written, a serious consideration of what he writes will create a more mature Christian as they study scripture and discuss with others what they believe. For my part, I am planning on breaking down several of his thoughts for you, my faithful readers, and I hope to have some good discussion as we go along. I'll even be bringing along a guest post from a friend with a copy of this book.

Who really goes to Hell? Don't you want to know?

David's blog:
The Gospel You've Never Heard booksite:
David's website on chess strategy:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No Longer Surprised

Call me jaded or even desensitized. Tell me I've lost my passion. Try to label me as losing my moral compass. You'll be wrong, but go ahead. I'm just no longer surprised.

I'm reading a lot of articles and blogs decrying the state of our nation, our role models and even the leaders in our communities. We are shocked and taken aback when people choose to do wrong. We wonder and moan aloud when sin takes a front seat, instead of being placed on the curb where it belongs. I'm not sure why.

Don't get me wrong. I am thankful to those who watch and warn. If there is danger ahead, I would like to know where not to step. But I think it's time that we stop pretending that we can live in a bubble of magic and rainbows. Jesus came to this world to redeem it from sin. If that was necessary back then, we can't expect that evil would just give up and crawl back home.

Just thinking about our over-sexualized culture (and the newest Disney darlings that join in) gets us all asking when someone will stand for what's right. Listen people, Paul was writing about this in 1 Corinthians 5:1-2. And Sodom and Gomorrah happened a long time before that. Guess what? Sin is not new and this is just one area that models well how old it is. Solomon was right when he wrote that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

I'm not saying we should give up or resign ourselves to this predicament. How about we resolve not to sin (Psalm 17:3 / Daniel 1:8 / 1 Corinthians 2:2)? How about we acknowledge the evil around us and decide to stand for what is right (Philippians 4:8)? How about we no longer act surprised?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Book Review: One Thing

The title of this book could almost be read in a voice-over by William Shatner; Boldly pursuing all that matters. But that would probably be cheesy and take away from this great book by Dwayne Roberts.

Dwayne offers great big nuggets of truth such as;

We are defined by how God feels about us, and God's delight is not defined by our failures or successes.

I think the majority of the Church in the Western world is oblivious to what bursts forth from the heart of the living God.

Near the end of the book his invitation is to
come, fall in love with the greatest Lover the world has ever known.

Using stories from the lives of David, Paul, Mary and more, Dwayne gives us a vivid picture of what we mean to God. His hope is that in giving us even a tiny glimpse will move us to pursue God in much the same way. After all, what else is there that satisfies.

Authors write about it, church-goers hint at it and street preachers yell about it, but in the end there is God and there is you. What will you go after? Quoting again from Dwayne,
My prayer is, Jesus, I will give my all to something, somewhere, and I want it to be You.

Published by Relevant Books, this is a must-read.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Jesus, Ikea Parking Lot

Kids and praying are a funny thing. Jennifer and I have tried, from very young ages, to instill in them an urgency to pray. I have taught them to be confident that God hears their little voices. Yet, despite my confidence that their Heavenly Father turns His ear when they begin to pray, I have noticed some interesting habits in their prayers.

For instance, they tend to naturally lay prostrate in church when we pray. They also have a tendency to sound very penitent when praying. And one should be careful when giving them a request to pray about, for they will do so for the next 3 months.

But our youngest has taken upon herself to let Jesus know where she's praying and what she's praying about. For instance, if we're sitting down to a meal, she'll pray, 'Jesus, food, thank you for...' and then she'll list all our family members, some of her stuffed animals and Jen twice. If it's bedtime, her prayer begins, 'Jesus, bed, thank you for...' and the rest of her list.

It's almost like posting on Twitter with their new location function, letting people know where you are when you tweet. So I tried it one day. We were in Chicago and the kids were being slightly unruly (and by that I mean I wondered which pack of wolves had dropped them off at my doorstep). After sticking them in the van and closing the door, I grabbed Jen's arm and leaned in and prayed, 'Jesus, IKEA parking lot, I pray you help us to have a good day with these children you have (cough) blessed us with.'

I don't know if this sounds ridiculous to you, but it seems like we as little men and women want our Father to know where we are. But when I pray, I take comfort in knowing that my Heavenly Father already knows exactly where I am.

Monday, May 3, 2010

I'm Allergic to Housework

So awhile ago my wife, Jennifer, was having some issues. (Disclaimer: I know, she's a girl and they all have issues.) But these issues were causing my wife to have headaches and nasal problems.

So after ruling out other possibilities, the doctors sent her to be tested for allergies. If you've never been tested for allergies, I would suggest it. It's a wonderful experience where they treat your arm like a pin cushion. They stick you with row upon row of the usual suspects. So after the tests were done, we waited a week and found out Jen is allergic to...

Corn...dust...children...Okay, I made that last one up. But tell me how a girl living in Indiana is allergic to corn? Isn't that like a fish being allergic to water? Or birds being allergic to feathers? Or Chuck Norris being allergic to cool? It just doesn't make sense. (Side note: Did you know that Chuck Norris invented the Cesarean section when he roundhouse-kicked his way out of his mother's womb? How cool is that?)

So now that I have to supervise our children dusting the house, I have some time to ponder; do we as Christians become 'allergic' to things that surround us? Are there normal happenings in church which cause us to react poorly? Are there people in our communities about whom we make rash judgments (pun intended)?

It seems to me that since God made us for relationships, we should seek a solution to all these unhealthy reactions. And perhaps the solution is more of what Jesus modeled in John 17:20-21. Jesus prayed for unity among the believers. It will make all of our lives so much more enjoyable and so much less dramatic.

I also imagine Jesus knew that believers who got along would be the best message non-believers could see. In this way, they won't become allergic to us.