Category: Faith

Why Rob Bell Is Helping The Church

Why Rob Bell Is Helping The Church

Rob Bell - Courtesy

In Christian circles, pastor Rob Bell has created a stir of controversy in questioning the certainty of hell in his new book, “Love Wins”. In a matter of weeks the blogosphere and Twitter universe were reeling with critiques, reviews and backlash – even before the book was released.

While some have pointed out that what Bell argues isn’t anything necessarily new; what has caught many off guard is the questions are being posed by someone with such influence and responsibility. There are over 10,000 people who attend Mars Hill Church in Michigan and thousands more who follow his videos and books.

For all the backlash and hype, I believe there is a small silver lining. Bell has given people a reason to engage the conversation.  MSNBC, CNN and countless other news organizations are talking about life, death, Heaven and hell. The book is the match, but the conversation is the fire. And the fire is spreading. People are asking questions.

I believe Bell has actually helped the church by putting it in the best possible position to answer the questions he asks but sadly doesn’t answer.  And the church has responded. Pastors and significant Christian leaders have published in-depth responses to Bell’s questions. One seminary is holding a panel discussion, broadcast live on the web. I have no doubt that churches around the country, even across the pond, are answering the questions about life, death, Heaven and hell.

As they should.

Where I diverge from Bell however is on the idea that the questions he asks don’t have answers.  He loves to ask questions; many which challenge Christian tradition. His questions don’t scare me and I welcome them because wrestling with our faith on many levels is good. But I believe answers to his questions and many others do exist in Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. If we ignore clear, literal, accounts of the character and nature of God, how He interacts with His Creation, and what He’s said about our past, present and future, we are devaluing one of the greatest gifts of the Christian faith behind the saving work of Christ. Apart from Scripture we  have little to build our understanding of the Christian faith.

Regardless of Bell’s intentions, as Christians we have the opportunity and responsibility to fill the void he has created. Heaven and hell are realities and as Christians we aren’t given the license to massage our faith to a point where it’s more palatable or comfortable.

We must come face to face with the uncomfortable issues of Heaven and hell and know what we believe and why we believe it.

Thankfully there are answers in a book, it’s probably just not in Rob Bell’s.

***Fill the Void***

I believe Mark Driscoll and Tim Challies do a tremendous job at accurately explaining the Biblical evidence on questions relating to Heaven and hell.

Pocket Idols

In a recent Facebook status update, I made the observation while sitting in a crowded cafe that I wondered “…if the time we used to spend thinking on the things of God is now taken up by our smart phones?”

The problem isn’t inherently with our smart phones. We have all sorts of technology that can take our time. Laptops, YouTube, Hulu, television, movies, music, fantasy leagues; it’s an endless list. I’m by no means anti-technology. I work with it everyday, have a smart phone with a data plan, am on Facebook, etc. Each of us has a responsibility to manage our time, our thoughts, our hobbies and interests. The infamous bumper sticker, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” comes to mind. Nevertheless, I haven’t been able to shake the observation I had at that crowded cafe.

Sitting down for breakfast last week I finally had a breakthrough. I believe mobile devices have the incredible potential to turn our affections away from God, more so than other technology and here’s why. Unlike the TV, the personal computer or even the laptop, mobile devices are always on and always with us. As such we are tethered to our social networks, our news, apps and everything else clawing for our intention, our time, our thoughts and yes, our affections.

The things that can turn our affections away from God are now more readily accessible and more difficult to disconnect from.

So what’s the point? I’m not calling for boycotts or for everyone to return to the dark ages. Mobile technology has the potential for good and there is so much about it that is good. I simply hope that there is a realization that there are two sides to the coin.

All the good that mobile devices provide open us up to unprecedented amounts of proverbial “golden calves.” And we can get comfortable, love our Tweets, our status updates, the Facebook banter, our fantasy leagues, Farmville scores, go to church on Sunday and yet be oblivious to the idols in our pocket. We co-exist and the greatest lie we tell ourselves is to puff up our chest and say technology has little to no effect on us. Make no mistake, it does effect us, it already has and it already is.

As Christians, we should come to grips with that reality. If we don’t believe there is a great potential for our heart to turn its affections from God and that there is a virtually endless supply of things which can cause it; we run the risk of diluting our influence, losing our effectiveness and as Tozer says, become just another “sluggard”.

Use technology, don’t bury your head in the sand or retreat to an underground bunker. For those who are given much, much is expected. But always be on guard. Our hearts are as deceitful as the things that clamor for our attention.

Convenient Desperation

Convenient Desperation

Almost every time I encounter Christians from outside the U.S., I am constantly struck by their level of dependency on God. Their faith is one of desperation. Desperate for God to show up, to provide, to move, to heal, to speak. And it inturn causes me to evaluate my own desperation.

I am grateful to live in one of the most powerful countries in the world, to experience all the freedoms and capabilities. Even amidst an economic recession, the average person in the U.S. has more money than a majority of the rest of the world.

Yet with all this freedom and capability there is the opportunity to lose my desperation and reliance on the One who created it all. In a country where I have access to almost anything I need, how desperate do I need to be? How desperate am I when “I can just make it happen”?

If I strip away the rationalizations,  the desperation for God in my life is often when it’s most  convenient. When disaster strikes, when a loved one is sick, when the accident happens, when the job is lost, when the pregnancy attempts stall, when life is in turmoil – those are the times I am desperate for God to do only what He can do.

Like my Christian brothers and sisters around the world, I want to have a daily desperation for Christ in my life regardless of the season I am in. I don’t want to lose perspective of the proper position God should have in my life. There truly is a gap between Creator and created. And regardless of how convenient my life is, regardless of how easy it is for me to pump my own gas, purchase my own food, put money in my 401k, fill my schedule and spend my time – all of it is truly His. His to provide and to lend to me for this lifetime.

In every aspect of life, may we be Christians who rely more on the Creator than we do on the created. May we be Christians who battle for daily desperation…not just when it’s convenient and we have no where else to turn.

Dangerous Man

Dangerous Man

Underneath the smile, the armor and the ego of ever man, I believe are the battle wounds of life. A mix of moments that have seemed minor or inconsequential… horrible or even fatal. From a paper cut or scrape to a gaping stab wound to the soul, I believe every man has at least one such moment. And every wound becomes the very fabric of who we are and how we live. They are after all a by-product of life, oftentimes the inevitable scars of wounds that we lug around from life stage to life stage.

The reality is we carry these battle wounds for so long we almost forget they’re there. And our “normal” is at times dysfunctional. We cope, we say “that’s how it’s always been.” We find busy lives, noble causes and popular hobbies to hide behind and we become expert “stuffers”. Bury them away, hide them away, tuck them away so they never see the light of day. While we might not have to deal with them, every relationship, every job, every interaction, everyone else….deals with them. They are responsible for the wounds we are unwilling to address or unknowingly carry.

Blinded by our dysfunction, oblivious to the possibilities of life to the fullest, we get comfortable. We get by. We give up the pursuit of something far better.

A man who never peels back the dirty bandages and investigates the wounds of his life, who never fully opens up all the doors to his Savior…is a dangerous man.

Put me in the front-lines of life with a man on my left who has come face to face with his own dark valleys and a man on my right who refuses to pull back the layers. I’ll take the man on my left every time. He has a greater sense of who he is, what his weaknesses are, why he does the things he does and how his history has shaped him but not defined him. This man has found redemptive healing that only the Maker can provide.

May you do the painful work of wading through your past and open the doors to discover a life to the fullest. May you not be lulled into believing the lies of your past, present and future circumstances. Through the work of your Savior, may you eventually become someone who is no longer a dangerous man.

The Workout I Will Always Remember

Are you kidding me, Coach?” That was the thought running through my mind when my coach asked us to do some things I thought I’d never be able to do physically. Making the transition from a high school cross country runner to a NCAA Division II distance runner had been a challenge. There were more miles, more workouts and greater intensity mixed in with all the stresses of college life.

[pullquote]As Christians, I believe we often underestimate the potential of our spiritual capacity. We incorrectly believe that we’ll never be good enough to do what God desires.[/pullquote]

This particular workout remains one of the most vivid memories of my college career. As my teammates and I stretched for our afternoon practice, our coach laid the plan out. We were to run the “Market Street” route, which led us through five miles of residential, city, campus and rural roads. Each mile had to be run in five minutes, thirty seconds—no slower. Directly following that run, we would meet at the track and run 20, 400m laps at 72 seconds each. “Are you kidding me, Coach?” Five miles at a 5:30 pace was hard enough by itself!

But our coach knew what I would eventually discover. We had trained all summer and were in the middle of our collegiate cross country season. I had already put hundreds of miles in, lifted weight and had increased my physical capacity to run further beyond what I had thought. I had faithfully done the work, and it paid off.

I completed the Market Street Five at a sub 5:30 pace. As we tried to catch our breath, we heard the infamous words, “On the line!” The 20 400m laps were about to begin. We ran 17 at sub 72 seconds and then ran the 18th lap in 69 seconds to avoid the last two.

What started out as a mentally impossible proposition was possible, because I had the physical capacity to do it. When I doubted, the challenge of my teammates and coaches revealed my true capacity. I could run farther, faster and longer than I ever imagined.

As Christians, I believe we often underestimate the potential of our spiritual capacity. We incorrectly believe that we’ll never be good enough to do what God desires. We’ll never find consistent spiritual disciplines in prayer and reading God’s Word. We’ll never be able to control our tongue, stop lusting, beat addictions, drop the worldly attitudes or ever become Christ-like.

The truth is, without Christ we can’t. But once we come to an authentic faith in Jesus Christ, we become children of God with unbelievable spiritual capacity. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we have “His divine power” which has given us “everything required for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3-4). Jesus did the work on the cross, and through his life, death and resurrection, we have Christ-like potential.

When God calls you to radical change, He knows the power of the Holy Spirit has given you everything you need to change. When you think you can’t give anything more, God will continue to equip you. When there doesn’t seem to be a way out, He will provide a way.

You have more spiritual capacity than you know. Will you partner with your Savior to go discover it?

This writing is part of a devotional I wrote for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. You can view the complete devotional here

Island Men

Island Men

Are you an island man?

I must confess that I have a natural, inner desire to be one.

But we should probably start with a definition. What is an island man exactly? An island man is one who lives out portions of his life on a figurative island, incorrectly believing that he can go at it alone and “make it work” in his marriage, family, relationships, job, dreams and even his faith.

[pullquote]A guy who doesn’t have deep, invested, distinct, relationships with other guys in his life will never be able to be the man he is to be.[/pullquote]

From my vantage point, I believe every man has a tendency to drift into his own island. Some men realize it and try to claw their way off the island. Some men realize it and don’t care. And many men are oblivious.  If we just work harder, put in more hours, read more, be more disciplined, go through countless programs, we will make it happen. But after years of living on and off the island, I can confess it never quite worked to just “go at it alone”.

My working idea is this: A guy who doesn’t have deep, invested, distinct, relationships with other guys in his life will never be able to be the man he is to be.

Now in Christian circles this is nothing new. Churches build programs on “discipleship” and “mentoring”. Thousands of books and approaches have been created. But I wonder if all of this has become nothing more than a “great Sunday pep talk”. Talk of discipleship and mentoring rings hollow and no longer stirs a calling within a man. A.W. Tozer would call these “dead words”, words that have become so overused they are often unable to encourage or foster much change.

So we men are left with our islands, our inadequacies and our inability to get off the island or recognize the priority it should be in our lives.

Recently the aspect of the island man that has become most baffling are the guys who recognize their tendencies, they know they shouldn’t go at it alone but yet they do nothing about it. Life is busy, responsibilities are mounting and there just isn’t enough time in the week or month to allow other guys access to their lives.

The remedy for us island men can be found by opening the Book. Contrary to popular belief the Bible remains practical and relevant for today’s men. Crack’n it open reveals these truths:

  • If we claim to be Christ followers, we must walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6). Even God in the flesh recognized the importance of surrounding Himself with other willing men.
  • Other guys in our lives help us grow and keep us sharp (Proverbs 27:7).
  • We need older guys who have “walked the walk” to provide us with wisdom (Proverbs 13:20).
  • And we need to pour into those who are younger to help show them a life off the island (Luke 6:40).

So if that’s the remedy, how do we get there? Two men I look up to and countless others recognize the same principle, as Christian men we need to be actively pursuing three types of relationships:

  1. A guy who sharpen me, is in a similar life stage and wants to pursue a radically transformed life through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
  2. A guy who is older than me, who can speak into my life, show me the path to walk and impart wisdom and knowledge from a life of experience.
  3. A younger guy or a guy who is earlier in the journey. Someone I can pour into myself and share my own journey.

What are you doing today to get off your island?

What are you doing to find 3 guys that will help you stay off the island and what are you doing to allow them access into your life?

May we bring to life the “dead words” of today by being men who daily pursue a life lived together.

What Is In A Name?

What Is In A Name?

So, here’s the setup. I’m getting my haircut and my job or my hobbies are always a topic of conversation. A “stylist” after all is supposed to make you feel comfortable and “small talk” is usually the vehicle of choice.

What makes it difficult at times is both my job and my hobbies are intrinsically linked to my faith. And it’s my faith that has been labeled, relabeled, mislabeled, branded, stereotyped, sliced, diced, examined, mis-represented, radicalized, watered-down, de-legitimized, I could go on.

See, I’m a Christian.

And with that sentence you now have a few hundred previous or current assumptions about my claim to be a Christian. What kind of Christian am I? Am I a Christian who pickets the funerals of U.S. servicemen and women and stomps on the American flag? Am I a Christian who forms long lines outside abortion clinics and screams “truth” at women? Maybe I’m a Christian who votes for Conservative issues, someone who opposes the left and believes only the right is “right”.

[pullquote]The term Christian means something different depending on who you ask.[/pullquote] Maybe I’m a Christian who believes FOX is “fair and balanced” and any other network is pushing leftist anti-faith agendas in an attempt to destabilize the family unit and remove my Christian freedoms. Am I a Christian who is so hypocritical I’ll tell you how to live and not live any differently myself? Or maybe I’m a Christian who doesn’t think doctrine is that important, pursues “universal” agreeable “truth” and believes that even though we all have faith differences we can unite around common humanitarian goals and dreams.

Hopefully you can now see the crux of the matter. The term Christian means something different depending on who you ask. And as a Christian I am well aware of the possible perceptions.

What I’ve learned through college, post college and now as a married dude is that I enjoy breaking stereotypes and redefining our current social and political definitions of what it means to be Christian. In fact…I really enjoy it.

I’ve also learned that so much of what we see today with the label of Christian is often on one end of an extreme. From picketing funerals to a Frankenstein of world religions there is some tendency to “not be like the other” and in my opinion what emerges doesn’t really look like Jesus, his disciples or the early church.

So as the stylist snips away the question is asked, “So where do you work?” I reply, “The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, that big building across from the Royals stadium…”

And as the conversation continues I give her suttle clues that I’m not in her chair to condem her.

[pullquote]I’m keenly aware of the hypocrisy that has plagued Christ followers and will guard against it. [/pullquote]From that haircut forward, I get to demonstrate that you won’t find me stomping at a military funeral or outside an abortion clinic screaming. You won’t find me fighting for the “left” or the “right” because contrary to popular belief I can’t find any Biblical evidence Jesus was either. I will get my news from all sorts of media outlets because no one is balanced and everyone has a bias.  I’m keenly aware of the hypocrisy that has plagued Christ followers and will guard against it…my “yes” will be “yes” and my “no” will be “no”. I will work to do two things, love God and love my neighbors (meaning everyone).

But I won’t waffle on doctrine. I’m not given an leeway to mix and match what “works for me”. Jesus, God the Father and the Holy Spirit are a package deal. I can’t add or subtract from the Gospel, I can’t sidestep or overlook that which makes me uncomfortable or is challenging. And I believe the “truth” is that which Jesus spoke of and what God reveals in all of the Bible, cover to cover.

One final look and the big black apron gets pulled away. As I pay at the counter and head to my car I have this thought.

With everyone I meet, work and play with, I have a mission. I will be given countless opportunities to break down all sorts of “Christian” stereotypes and hopefully help connect the created back to the Creator.

This Life Journey…

This Life Journey…

After over a 2-year hiatus from the blogosphere, I am officially back. Much has changed and I’ve got a lot to write about.

The reality is I haven’t stopped writing, I just never wrote online. But over the last year I’ve had a urge to get back. The Spinning Carousel was my platform through college and post college. You can still read my past archives under “Past Writings”, some of them are a trip.

But a new platform has emerged. This Life Journey is by no means the best title. It’s a little too emo. I did however have two choices; wait another 2-years and hope I’d find a better title or run with what I got and start writing. I chose the latter.

And This Life Journey fits I think. I’m no longer in college, no longer riding the carousel. I’m older, have clearer vision, passion and a healed, sharper, sense of self.

With a new blog comes new writings. There will undoubtedly be the occasional social commentary and random life stories that are worth the read. You can’t take the story telling outta the story teller. But there will definitely be some distinct categories I write from. Faith, politics, culture, life, marriage and how those all mesh together for an almost 30-year-old, married Christian guy in the middle of middle America.

It is absolutely This Life Journey and everyone and everything this life encompasses.