Good News in the Midst of Sadness

In the midst of the tragedy and sadness of the recent shooting at the Navy Yard here in DC, I am reminded that this life is so short. Scripture tells us that our lifespan is a mere breath, here for a moment and then gone (Psalm 39:11). Proverbs 27:1 reminds us of the folly of boasting about tomorrow, as we do not know what a day may bring forth. In light of that, our days should be marked by a sense of urgency. There are eternities at stake, eternities that should give us courage and motivation to pursue Christ passionately, to share the gospel freely and with boldness, to speak into a dark and broken world and bring the light so desperately needed. Let us remember those who were killed, pray for their families, and live with the gospel always on our lips.

As I was reading about this tragedy this evening, I stumbled across a few encouraging stories of hope, and lives being changed around the US. One of them is the story of a pastor’s wife in Tennessee who started ministering to strippers in Nashville, building relationships and sharing the gospel with them, helping them shed their past and create a new life in Christ. Her love for these women is clearly evident, and an example to me of loving and serving those who live a completely different lifestyle than mine.

The second story is from New York City, where a group called the New York City Young Men’s Initiative has founded the “Fatherhood Academy” to help men learn responsible fatherhood. These men attend a program three nights a week for several months to earn their GED, prepare for college, learn life skills, get job experience, and receive advice and encouragement to step up as dad’s to their children. Started in 2012, they have already had 82 graduates from the program!

And just for fun, watch a time lapse video of the raising of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy over the past two days. Quite a contrast between the side that was out of the water and the side of the boat that has been sitting in the muck and mire for months on end, and what an amazing feat of engineering it took to get it upright!

Godliness vs. Giftedness

This summer was the bi-annual all staff conference for Cru out in Colorado, and Alistair Begg was the keynote speaker. He has long held a place on my list of favorite pastors, and it was a joy to join the sessions via the live feed even though I am no longer on staff.

He spoke to us from Jude on how to live as believers in light of our culture, and something he said has stuck with me for weeks:

Right now the world’s greatest need is our godliness, not our giftedness. 

My first thought has to do with how we as the church react in light of our current culture. There is a tendency in ministry to want to fit in, to make our message palatable and acceptable. Many of us are drawn to try new methods and new programs, to change the outer wrappings to make it look pretty. We falsely think that by acting like the rest of the world, the world will want to join us.

The second thought has to do with the culture of performance within the church. Great pressure is felt on our hearts and minds to have the best sermons or talks, the most current programs, the nicest buildings, the best staff. We are convinced that we actually bring something of our own to the table, that our ‘giftedness’ in a certain area is of more value than anything else.  Again, we falsely believe that the mission will go forward based on our talent, that people will be drawn to us based on what we do, not who we are.

I am using the plural pronouns because I have both seen these trends and been a part of them. And yet, in reading Acts 2, we see a completely different scene. The early church believers were set apart in virtually every way from the culture of their day. They lived authentic community. They shared their possessions. They gave freely to the poor. They showed forgiveness to their enemies as well as their friends. They lived the gospel of Jesus Christ as a lifestyle. They spoke differently, loved differently, even died differently. They had a reason for finding joy in death, because their hope lay in what was to come, not in anything they had on earth. They were fearless, bold, confident, and captivating to the world around them.

This generation on many levels seems farther away from the Lord than ever before, and I wonder how much of it has to do with putting our giftedness above our godliness? Of putting our desire for relevance above our passion for living distinctly from the culture? This generation actually needs us to show them a different way a live. A way that is so captivating because it is nothing like they have ever seen before. It is counter-intuitive in a sense; this idea that living ‘other’ is more significant and will have a greater impact than living as close to the culture as possible.

Godliness, not giftedness. We don’t need to model our great talents, or show how hip we are. We need to model love for Christ and others, dedication to the Word, and a lifestyle in line with all that the gospel holds. Our culture cannot change if it has nothing better to strive towards. There is a better way, and that way is found in Jesus. True culture change will come when we stop living like everyone else and start practicing true godliness.

This challenge is just as much for me as for anyone else. What do people see when they look at my life, or at your life? Do they see the gospel? Or do they see someone who looks just like them? Are they drawn towards Christ in us? How can we be culture changers today, this week, this year? How can we engage with the culture, yet not forsake the truth of the gospel?

This is my prayer for the church….that we would become captivating as we continuously choose to pursue godliness.

 

Thankful Thursday, May 12

On this Thursday, I am thankful for…

1. Sunshine!!!! Although the forecast has been predicting rain every day this week, so far we have had sunshine and temps in the 80’s! The weather here in Indy is so strange – we went straight from the lower sixties to the eighties, but hey, we’ll take what we can get.

2. Seeing the gospel through adoption. I have four friends who are currently in the process of either fostering or adopting babies from both the states and internationally, and it has been such a blessing to see the gospel lived out in that way – choosing to love and accept someone unconditionally, forever, and to give them love and a home they may not have ever had otherwise.

3. My patches, and all the friends who decorated them for me to make this coming month a fun experience!

4. Berlin, and the ways God is moving in the lives of students in that city. On Tuesday I received an email from my dear friend Elaine who is on STINT in Berlin this year, with three stories of lives being changed by the gospel. Stories of students asking questions, and

5. A good haircut 🙂

6. Prayer – how awesome is it that we can communicate directly with God?? Love starting off every Thursday morning in the office with an hour of prayer.

What’s the Big Deal?

In the past few months the blogosphere – and much of the internet really – has erupted with a firestorm of articles, blog entries and videos on the topic of hell. The origins can be traced to the pre-release promotion video of Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

Although I have not yet read the book for myself, I have read multiple book reviews and have been following along with what many men I respect (and who are much smarter and better writers than me) have said since the beginning; from the promotional video to the books arrival on shelves. When the video was initially released, several well-known pastors and theologians wrote responses, some even going so far as to call Bell a heretic and a universalist. Others in the more “mainstream” praised him for his honest and seemingly innocent question-asking and willingness to confront tough issues.

If you have not had a chance to read up on this whole topic, I will give you a quick overview, and at the bottom of this blog are some great links you can check out for more info. In the video Rob Bell begins his questioning, starting with our ability to say with certainty what happens to us after death. Following along with that, the book revisits the age old topic of death, the afterlife and the finality of it all. He establishes the existence of heaven and hell, and that we will all go to one of those places immediately after we die. However, he then questions the finality of death, proposing that a God who loves would not make death on earth the final end, but instead would choose to give those in hell an eternity of chances to come back to Him. In Bell’s mind, because God is so loving and luring, eventually everyone will turn to Him, be taken to heaven, and hell will be emptied.

So, what’s the big deal? Why are one person’s questions on hell and the afterlife so important that it has caused such a reaction? Does it really matter?

Yes, I believe it matters greatly. I would say that it’s not the questions that are under fire – it’s the way he has chosen to answer them. I would agree completely with those who have praised him for his questions, but I also strongly disagree with Bell’s conclusions. In and of themselves questions can be good, causing us to look at what we believe and to dig for truth, and can also create great discussions with groups of people seeking for answers to life and death. But the answers that are ultimately given to those questions are even more vital, as they have a direct impact on our eternity.

When I read the Bible, I see no room for flexibility or uncertainty in the theology of heaven and hell. If it did, then Christ’s death on the cross would be for nothing. What is the purpose of His substitutionary death for our sins if we can have eternal life in heaven without becoming perfect? From beginning to end the Bible is a story about how God in His holiness demands perfection in His presence, our failure as a people to attain it, our outright rebellion against him, and His glorious solution – giving His own perfection that we might be able to come before Him with His perfect sacrifice covering our broken sinfulness.

So, instead of flexibility I see a clear message from Christ that there are no second chances after we die (Matthew 7:13-14, John 14:6. John 12:44-50, Matthew 25:34-46). I see also that although God is loving, He is also just. He in His sovereignty requires payment for our rebellion and sin, and biblically speaking there are only two ways to pay for it: through Christ’s blood or through our own payment eternally in hell (Romans 3:23, 6:23). It is dangerous to preach a message that says that it is ok if you don’t make a choice of whether or not to follow Christ before you die. It is dangerous to preach only one side of God’s character. It is harmful to make the gospel seem warm and acceptable to a people who are quick to look for any excuse to continue in our rebellion.

This is a big deal because of the number of eternities at stake. Because pastors are held to a higher accountability for the way they shepherd and lead their flock (and a 10,000+ person church like the one where Bell preaches is a pretty large flock). Because there is the great allure of changing the gospel to fit the culture, rather than changing the culture to follow the gospel.

I hope that those who read the book will also pick up their Bibles and try to reconcile his conclusions, and in so doing come to discover the truth about heaven, hell and the fate of every person who ever lived.

Links/Sources:

– An excellent and thorough chronology of the video and articles surrounding Bell’s new book and the theology of hell: click here (I recommend Kevin DeYoung’s book review, the MSNBC interview, and “To hell with hell?” by Mark Driscoll

Another great book review by Relevant Magazine here

The Love Wins website

Book Lists

I love books. All kinds of books, from stories that take you away to another world, to words that make you really think, to authors who make you laugh and cry (often at the same time). I almost always have a stack of 3,4,5, even 6 books going at the same time. Rarely do I have only one going on its own. I love jumping back and forth between books, switching genres, depth, humor factor, and length to suit whatever I am feeling at the moment. In the past few months I have added a bunch of new books to my home library. Some I whipped through in a few days, a few I’m in process, and a bunch are on my still-to-read list. Here are a few I would highly recommend:

Books I've recently finished reading

Books I’ve already read…..top to Bottom:

The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis. Well, I’m technically not finished with this one yet, but almost. Enough to tell you that it is an excellent treatise on how we love others, the four kinds of love in the world (hence the title), and what true love should look like. C.S. Lewis continues to amaze me with his writing.

When A Crocodile Eats the Sun, by Peter Godwin. A beautiful, haunting, heavy-hearted memior of the civil war that occured at the beginning of this decade in Zimbabwe and the life of Godwins family during those years. Godwin was born and raised in Zimbabwe by parents who immigrated there from England. Through the course of the book a secret past is discovered about his father, leading Godwin into a struggle of heart and identity that closely parallels the war raging in his home country. Well worth the read, although be prepared to cry.

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones. This is a must-have for anyone who desires to know the heart of God. Lloyd-Jones weaves the gospel in every story she tells, from creation to revelation. With beautiful writing she points us to the heart of the bible. This book is perfect for new parents, old parents, grandparents, children (with or without parents), single people, anybody and everybody!

Ruth Bell Graham: Celebrating an Extraordinary Life. This is a collection of stories gathered from close family and friends of Ruth Bell Graham, the late wife of evangelist Billy Graham. I am in awe of the godly, spunky, character-filled, loving-well woman she was, and have officially made her one of my role models in life. The others are (in no particular order after the first): Jesus, my mom, grannie, grandma, Elisabeth Elliott, and more. All in all, this book was a great picture of what it looks like to walk through life with Jesus as your best friend, loving people well.

Her Mother’s Hope, by Francine Rivers. One of my favorite modern day novelists, Francine Rivers has a unique method of blending history with fictional characters. She does it again in this book, weaving a story loosely based on her own mother and grandmother from WWI through the 80’s. Like the rest of her works, I highly recommend reading this one and the sequel coming out this fall!

…..And now…..the books still to be read…..get excited!! Again, top to bottom

Next up on the reading list

Practical Theology for Women, by Wendy Thorger Alsup. An overview of major theological topics designed to speak into the practical daily lives of women striving to live for Jesus. I am excited to get started on this one soon.

The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, by John Piper. The name and author pretty much sum this one up. In our postmodern world, it can be hard to make anything ‘supreme’, especially the God of the universe. Piper addresses this serious need in our culture today, calling us back to the biblical truths of the Supremacy of Christ, regardless of the culture. Also looking forward to this one.

Respectable Sins, by Jerry Bridges. He is one of my all-time favorite Christian writers. His other works that I love include The Pursuit of Holiness and Trusting God. I am guessing this one will be just as down to earth and yet also convicting and truthful in its message of how we tend to make certain sins ‘respectable’, and what the Bible has to say about that.

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. He just keeps showing up on my book list because he is just that great! I’ve read this book by him before, but I finally own it in my library! I want to read it again, thus its presence here. One of the greatest explanation of Christianity ever written, by someone who once believed that God didn’t exist.

The Hole in our Gospel, by Richard Stearns. This book was given to me by a friend, and I am interested in the topic. It is a look at the lack of passion and care for social justice in the church today, which is also something the Lord has been bringing up in my life the past few months. Hopefully this book will help ignite a passion in my heart for the poor and needy.

The Call, by Os Guinness. I have heard that this book is amazing and a must-read for believers, especially those in the ministry. I look forward to seeing if it lives up to its reputation.

The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. Another one that I have heard much about, but never before read. And another one that I look forward to discovering its worth and reputation. Also, I like that it has pears on the cover.

The Ragamuffin Gospel(Not Pictured), by Brennan Manning. My brother has made this required reading for me. I haven’t started it yet, but will now that I am done with some of my other books. It changed his life, which is good enough for me to recommend it to others. It will be great to read through it and enjoy being smacked in the face with the truth of the gospel (again, because it is always good to be reminded).

Hope you’ve enjoyed this seasons book list! I’ll post another one in the winter or spring….many of the bottom picture books will have moved up to the top, with my evaluations of them, and more new books will fill the bottom picture!