Monday, January 30, 2012

When a Stranger Stays Two Weeks

           When we lived in Argentina, we sporadically, experienced some hostility because we were Americans.  For example, people would ask us how in the world we could be a part of the U.S. political system.
            Judy and I had to be careful and remember we were not there to be apologists for the U.S. government. Each time we experienced such encounters, we were reminded that we were far away from our real home.            
            As you might imagine, other Americans would travel to Argentina. Occasionally, acquaintances of ours would call and ask us to host friends or relatives. These folks were strangers to us, but people we knew loved them. Their pilgrim friends were going to be far away from home; they needed a friendly place to stay.
            I remember one time a co-worker in the Lord, living in another part of Argentina, called to tell us about his cousin. The cousin was studying to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology, as I recall; the student and his wife planned on spending an extended amount of time researching in Argentina. Our fellow missionary was hoping Judy and I could host his cousin (and cousin’s wife) for a two-week visit.
            Question: what if an acquaintance called you and asked if a cousin and his wife could come stay with you for two weeks? Would you be happy with that request?
            We agreed, and, guess what? We thoroughly enjoyed the two-week visit. I have pleasant memories of long conversations, meals in the city, watching movies and sporting events on TV--two weeks of intimately sharing life.
            I think there were several reasons why we enjoyed their company. Here are two:
1. They were nice people (not to mention very interesting.)
2. These were people who, as Americans, shared a common background a common culture, and common values. Interestingly enough, in the U.S., we would not have maintained that much in common. They were from the Midwest, Judy and I were from Texas. They were Methodists, we were Restorationists. However, in a foreign land, those differences melted. The four of us retained our citizenship in another place, which was our bond.
            I reminisced about this the other day when reading Hebrews 13:1-2, “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!
These verses reflect a time when God’s people were living in a land hostile to their faith. Christians were the outsiders. Christian strangers who were traveling needed a safe haven in a hostile town. In those days, the society did not offer many reputable motels or inns. Consequently, when you found a fellow pilgrim who had no place to stay, you offered your home to him.
From my small taste of being an outsider living in a foreign land, I would wager that the Christians who opened up their homes and offered hospitality enjoyed a byproduct of sweet blessing. After all, they were citizens-not of this world-but of heaven.
Let me encourage you if you live in a place where a Christian could use some good hospitality-for whatever reason-to welcome him or her. Your guest will be blessed, and you just might be too.
Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. I still like Adele, and I think “Someone Like You” will, in the future, be considered one of the truly great love songs. It has haunting lyrics and a melancholy melody.
2. If “Pro Bowl” were a corporate brand, the Better Business Bureau’s “Report a Scam” would overload today.
3. Here’s my Super Bowl pick: Giants 24-Patriots 17.
4. I’ve started rereading THE LAST LION, William Manchester’s first volume of his biography on Winston Churchill. Churchill—what an amazing/fascinating man.
            5. I am looking forward to preaching out of Deuteronomy on Sunday nights. I think those who join me will be blessed, as I know I will.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Think Different--pt. 2

            Last week, we began by talking about marriage, community, the mission of Israel and of the Church. We also noted that God spoke to the Apostle Peter in a vision, telling him, in essence, to think differently about those God desires to invite into His community of faith.
            Bringing Gentiles into the Kingdom had "blown the fuses" of the Jews. The question in the New Testament would prove to be: would it blow the fuses of the New Testament Church? Could the Jewish Christians welcome the Gentile Christians? Could the Jewish Christians place God's agenda over their own preferences? It would mean fellowshipping those who prove to be extremely different.
            Recently, our family attended a wedding. The groom was the son of parents with we served as missionaries to Argentina. The groom’s dad officiated the ceremony.
One of the things he emphasized was a bride and groom cannot focus on individual happiness in marriage. They cannot obsess with individual wants. Each must focus on Jesus. Jesus’ Kingdom must transcend all things—even the marriage. (“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…”)
The starting step to making a marriage work is to have the Kingdom of God as the goal transcending a couple’s marriage. Man and wife are looking UP to Jesus and His Kingdom. Everything is about “how do we help the Kingdom in this marriage?” It is a lot easier to find unity in marriage when SERVING the Kingdom is the primary goal.
            The problem for Israel was that seeking the Kingdom first was not the goal that transcended their lives; their own personal agendas had superseded God’s Kingdom. That led to division and their own destruction.
            And so, in Acts chapter ten, God was handing over to a new community of people this mission yet to be fulfilled. The new community was called the Church. To fulfill this mission in love and unity, they would have to elevate the Kingdom of Jesus and His will as the primary goal above all else.
            Jesus wanted more people to come into his kingdom. He wanted them to grow in his kingdom. And so much of what you read about in the New Testament having to do with unity and love, division and discord, is this struggle between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians.
            Sometimes these concerned non-negotiables. I Cor. 6:9-11 offers an example of attitudes and morals that could not be compromised. But passages such as Romans 14 and 15 call upon these churches to make decisions that will help build young Christians in the Kingdom. These were negotiables.
Paul typically does not give them the answers. He gives them a framework for negotiating the negotiables.  Hence, these Christians were to make decisions that were to help these who were new to the faith, be able to stay in the faith, so that they could be formed by the faith.
            This meant that for some of the questions addressed, Christians had to put aside their personal agendas, their personal preferences, their personal comfort zones, even their personal understandings of God's teaching in Scripture (unless it was clearly connected to salvation) for the sake of Jesus and His kingdom.
You know, the biggest disagreement I've ever seen in a church might have been the one I saw Argentina years ago. We were planting congregations in different parts of the city, and for a while one met in our home.
We met on Sunday afternoons at three o'clock. One Sunday, we had our assembly, followed by a Bible study, which was followed by our monthly family meeting.
Somebody suggested that we change the assembly time to Sunday mornings. That started a huge fight.
            It was so bad that one of my teammates finally said, “Stop! Let's table this and talk about it next week after the assembly and Bible study.”
            Well, it just so happens that this brother was the one who was supposed to bring the sermon the next week. He preached out of Philippians chapter two, 1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others….
            When it was time for the family meeting, everyone had a suggestion about when to meet, and no one suggested the time that he or she had originally proposed. Everyone suggested a time that was beneficial for someone else.
            I will never forget my teammate taking us to Philippians to help us understand how you place the mind of Christ–the mind of the Kingdom–above all else. In the end, isn't it the Kingdom that matters the most? In that case, we had to learn to think different when it came to starting times for assemblies.
            If I can paraphrase an acquaintance paraphrasing Martin Luther King, I have a dream that someday, on the same pew, will be sitting a woman wearing a burqa, alongside an elderly woman wearing a hat and earrings, alongside a young man wearing a nose ring, alongside a middle-aged man in a three-piece suit, alongside a person who likes to sing new songs, alongside a person who likes to sing old songs, alongside a person who is emotionally expressive, alongside a person who is emotionally reserved… and all of these people bringing into the assembly different cultures and different ways of viewing things.
All of that would be okay–because the glue that holds everybody together in love and unity is the Kingdom of God, which is above all.
Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. Curse you John Feinstein! You came out with another book I cannot put down—One on One. In it, you describe in exquisite detail your behind-the-scenes activities writing about sports these past thirty years. Especially fascinating is your account of your time with Bob Knight writing A Season on the Brink. I hate it when a book absorbs my attention—please stop writing them.
2. A lot of people got the Super Bowl they wanted. I cannot help but pick the Giants.
3. Texas Rangers—I believe in Yu Darvish because I believe in the judgment of Nolan Ryan.
4. Yesterday, I preached on Hebrews 2:1, which talks about drifting away from Jesus. I promised my church yesterday I would place a link to the Casting Crowns’ video SLOW FADE—a cool video and a great song. Here it is:
5. Saturday marked 39 years of Roe v. Wade; yet, I still believe in the future. Most stats I see show younger people growing increasingly more pro-life. Someday, I predict, culture will place the stigma on the pro-choice position that it has placed on the old Jim Crow laws.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Think Different

I’ve seen various versions of the following joke. My favorite was sent to me by a friend:

His and Her Diaries

Wife's Diary:

Tonight, I thought my husband was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a nice restaurant for dinner. I was shopping with my friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment on it. Conversation wasn't flowing, so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet so we could talk. He agreed, but he didn't say much. I asked him what was wrong; He said, 'Nothing.' I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said he wasn't upset, that it had nothing to do with me, and not to worry about it. On the way home, I told him that I loved him. He smiled slightly, and kept driving. I can't explain his behavior. I don't know why he didn't say, 'I love you, too.'

When we got home, I felt as if I had lost him completely, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there quietly, and watched TV. He continued to seem distant and absent. Finally, with silence all around us, I decided to go to bed. About 15 minutes later, he came to bed. But I still felt that he was distracted, and his thoughts were somewhere else. He fell asleep - I cried. I don't know what to do. I'm almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else. My life is a disaster!

Husband's Diary:

Boat wouldn't start, can't figure it out.

Marriage is hard. Spouses see things differently. To become married, you have to transform your mindset to a different way of thinking.
            We have seen this in other fields. Apple, a few years ago, launched a new advertising campaign—“Think Different.”  (Think different, not grammatically.) The company was integrating everything: music, computers, cell phones… a complete break from the rest of the industry.
A mantra for God could be, “Think different.” For example, in Acts 10, God was doing a work that was going to blow Peter's mind. He had to show Peter what He was up to.
In Acts 10, we have a very good man who was known as Cornelius. He was a Gentile. Cornelius was in a journey of faith, but he was not yet in a saving relationship with Jesus. So God went to a lot of trouble to see to it that it happened. However, there was a problem.
God had chosen to work through the people of the church, and they did not have the same mindset He did. For example, he spoke to a fellow named Peter. Peter was an apostle. Peter was part of the household of Israel. One day, Peter went up to an out-of-the-way place to pray.
Peter had been trained to look at food in specific ways. Now God was telling him to think different. God was telling Peter to think different about food so that he could think different about people. God wanted to bring different people into the kingdom. This was going to be a huge stretch for Peter and others who were like him.
            What Peter did not remember was that God was always about community. You go back to Genesis 2: God started building his most fundamental community–and what was that? Marriage.
            Now folks, Judy and I are married. We are very different. Our bodies are different. She is a female, and I am a male.
Do we think alike? No. She is an early riser. I have built pyramids of pillows on top of my head trying to cut out any sign of sound and light at 5:30 in the morning while she is getting ready for her day; I'm trying to sleep… because I am a late-to-bed person. (Of course, according to Ben Franklin, Judy is healthy, wise, and, now that she is a full-time teacher, surely soon to be wealthy!)
            Judy would love to set a thermostat to 70° in the winter time. I would be happy to turn off the heater until the temperature drops below 50°. (It is winter after all; we can bundle up.)
            A few years ago, we negotiated.
            Judy said, “Let’s put the thermostat at 65.”
            I said, “Let’s put it at 60.”
            We compromised… at 65.
            God, in his mysterious wisdom, has called Judy and me together in community. Somehow, we work it out. Sometimes it is through submission; sometimes it is through compromise–but we make it work.
            Now, there are those in our society today who are trying to eliminate the difference and create marriages for those who are as much alike as possible—including alike in gender. But God has always said, in His word, regarding marriage–think different.
            As for Judy and me, God, in His infinite wisdom, understands that Judy and I, as we struggle with our differences, if we submit to the work of the Holy Spirit, are being transformed more and more into the image of Christ.
            Let's expand this a little bit. God called the world to his community of people, initially through a fellow name Abraham. He cultivated a people. Later, he would call that community Israel. They were to take the good news of God to the entire world, It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Is. 49:6.) NIV 1984
            God was saying: I want to call the world to this community.
But this community–Israel–could not get over the difference between themselves and the rest of the world. They could not think different. They wanted to think--same. They wanted only those who were like them in their community.
            What they did not realize is that God would have done a work on them had they allowed him to do so. He would have transformed them into a people of his character through this difficult work of interacting with those who were different, but that was not a priority for the Israelites.
            Unfortunately, too often, the Israelites thought about what they wanted and that messed up the work of God. You have got to think about God and his Kingdom—what God wants.
(To be continued next week.)
Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. I found the book Eisenhower-The White House Years by Jim Newton to be enjoyable. I had read that it broke new ground because of the access the author had to classified documents that had recently been declassified. Yes, the book broke new ground, but… it was not to the extent as advertised. However, these new revelations continue to draw out the fact that Eisenhower was the true leader of his White House. Moreover, I found those endorsing the book on the cover (including a few democrats) fascinating
2. John Eisenberg’s book That First Season did not break much new ground either about Vince Lombardi’s first season with the Green Bay Packers back in 1959. Probably, the more accurate statement would be Eisenberg provided a few more details about what occurred that first year in Green Bay than other books. Still, the book was interesting; furthermore, I was impressed by the quantity of people the author interviewed.
3. Okay, so I was wrong last week about Denver’s defense. They looked awful. I am picking San Fran over New York and Baltimore over New England. However, the glamour Super Bowl matchup would be New England vs. New York—a rematch of their epic 2008 battle.
4. I’m intrigued by Kiefer Sutherland’s new TV show Touch. 
5. I downloaded new music to my iTunes last week, and everyone in my family loves it. It’s called “Hero in Waiting”, and its composed by David Robidioux of NFL Films. You might recognize portions of the piece. I find it stirring and beautiful.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Is Saturday the Sabbath?

        The late preacher and writer, J. Vernon McGee, once told of a man who came to him and said, “I’ll give you $100 if you will show me where the Sabbath day has been changed.” 
McGee replied, “I don’t think it has been changed. Saturday is Saturday, it is the seventh day of the week, and it is the Sabbath day. I realize our calendar has been adjusted, and can be off a few days, but we won’t even consider that point. The seventh day is still Saturday, and it is still the Sabbath day.” 
The gentleman, with a little mirth, next asked, “Then why don’t you keep the Sabbath day if it hasn’t been changed?” 
McGee answered, “The DAY hasn’t changed, but I have been changed. I’ve been given a new nature now, I am joined to Christ; I am a part of the new creation. We celebrate the first day because that is the day He rose from the grave.” 
I have been at work in Hebrews the last few months preparing for a preaching series. While I resist the temptation to reinstate the old Sunday “blue laws,” I do believe that we hurt ourselves by trying to cram so much into our Sundays. 
The preacher who wrote Hebrews tries to encourage a discouraged people. His number one application is this—you guys need to be assembling together on Sundays.
After that, the more we can set aside for physical, emotional, and spiritual rest, the more blessing will be a byproduct. Scripture does not tell us God will condemn us if we don’t, but it will be our loss.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. Something caught my eye the other day. Somebody wrote, “When you are doing something that someone else on your staff could do 80% as well, you are probably wasting your time. Learning to delegate effectively is even more important in determining the size of your contribution in life than your native intelligence.”
            I think whoever wrote this is right.
2. Just when you think Tim Tebow is done, he comes back and amazes you. What a game against Pittsburgh! Considering Denver’s defense (excellent), and New England’s defense (horrible), I would not put it past Denver to defeat New England on Saturday night.
3. It was hard for me to get excited about last night's game. I looked for LSU to defeat Alabama again. This was an amazing and interesting team from LSU. Yet, Alabama's performance was staggering last night. Considering the quality of LSU athletes, Alabama's defensive performance was perhaps the greatest of all time. Furthermore, the entire Alabama team received only one penalty all night--late in the second half. Is any other team more well-coached than Alabama? I hold no affection for Nick Saban, but I admire him.
4. I’ve never before watched a Muppet movie. I’ve never even watched the TV show for more than a few minutes. Last week I took Annie and Abby to see the recently released movie—THE MUPPETS. I really liked it—funny, heartwarming, nostalgic, witty, and clever.
5. My nine-year-old son, Timothy, got a Red Ryder BB gun from his grandad over the holidays. Consider this your warning. :)

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Opinion: LOVE WINS by Rob Bell

     [On December 26, 2011 and January 1, 2012, I'm going to be running my two top viewed posts for 2011. I hope you enjoy these once again--or for the first time.
       I'm pleased that today’s blog, which I first posted in April, was highly read. It's my take on Rob Bell's controversial book LOVE WINS. ME]
            I tell you—I want to believe it. I think millions of Christians DO believe it.
            “It” is what Rob Bell has written in his latest book, LOVE WINS. If you watch news shows like GOOD MORNING AMERICA or watch news channels such as MSNBC, you may have seen Bell interviewed the past month.
            Rob Bell, in case you don’t know, is a very popular preacher out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the creator of the NOOMA videos, which are extremely popular in mainstream Christianity. Bell has also written some bestseller books. SEX GOD is one of the best treatments of the subject of sexuality I have ever read.
            If Rob Bell had stopped after the first 93 pages of LOVE Wins, I have a feeling there would be no fuss. Most of those pages are things he has already said, and he makes some very good points. For example: the way Christians, and I am using the term loosely, often come across so negatively to nonbelievers, is lamentable. Research continues to bear this out.
             In chapters two and three, Bell does an excellent job of channeling great thinkers such as C. S. Lewis and N. T. Wright, in explaining how heaven and hell don’t begin in the life to come—they begin today.
            My one negative critique of chapter three is, Bell invested an enormous amount of stock in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, seeing it as an indicator of what life will be like in the age to come. I, personally, believe that parable is more of an explanation of Jesus’ attitude toward the poor. To be fair, many others join Bell in using the parable in this way.
            Bell accurately points out how little the word “hell” is used in Scripture. This can be misleading. The concept of judgment is found throughout the Bible, culminating in the book of Revelation. I join the majority of Christendom as seeing these references as signs pointing to an ultimate eternal separation from God for many.
             In Bell’s weakest moments, he pulls a number of judgment passages out of context, seemingly having them argue that God will offer mercy, redemption, and restoration to those recipients of judgment in scripture. He seizes upon the parts of Scripture that are ambiguous about the afterlife and combines them into a view that God will save everyone, or almost everyone, ultimately. To put it succinctly, God's love will change, virtually, everyone on the other side of death into a follower of Jesus.
            I need to be careful here. I follow where Bell is going with some of the Old Testament examples. I get his point that God’s earthly judgment, for example, with the Israelites, does not mean they will be banished to hell forever. Nevertheless, I see it as going beyond the scope of biblical revelation to say this is the prototype for how God will relate to every human in the after life.
            Again I say, if God so chooses—great! Who am I to judge? (I’m sorry… that last sentence made me crack up. :) ) However, this does not seem to square with the way God seeks to portray himself in scripture. It is almost like Bell is saying—I know this is what the Bible says about the character of God, but I want you to know, he does not mean it.
            I've got to admit; it sounds awfully good. But here is the problem: the overwhelming essence of Scripture attests to a coming judgment, where some will be saved and many will be lost. The character of God revealed in Scripture seems to support this understanding as well.
            Herein lies part of the problem with Bell in this book. Bell, like many of this age, has focused on love of God—to the extreme. God's holiness, God's justice, and God's anger take second place. He is more balance in this book than I thought he would be, but this is faint praise. I found something that Tim Archer, of HERALD OF TRUTH, wrote last week, which applies well here, “More often than not, we choose not to believe in God or some aspect of God’s nature because of our own wishes and desires, the way we wish things were.”
            I saw LOVE WINS coming a few years ago, when I saw Bell’s video THE GOD’S AREN’T ANGRY. That video was another masterful work, but it also put God in a box. It connected the concept of God's wrath to the needs of ancient peoples, who visualized their deities as angry, wrathful, and demanding of appeasement.
            Bell converted the wrath of God into a metaphor designed to address the fears and beliefs of ancient peoples. It was almost as if he was saying, “We’re past that now. Civilization has grown up.” Again, his is not the only voice that says this. Many in Christianity feel the same way. Bell has simply articulated these views to a new generation, in a powerful and engaging way.
            Frankly, it’s not fun to disagree with Bell. To do so, sometimes, comes across as the equivalent of stereotypical old man, sitting in a lawn chair wearing shorts, dark socks, and dress shoes shouting, “You kids get off my lawn!”
            I read LOVE WINS with the impression, he was seeking to find a way to package the Gospel, to make it more palatable for unchurched people. This I can understand, because so many unchurched people hate Christians. Consequently, I see Bell's message here “selling” well.
            Not everyone in the secular world seems to be buying it though. Journalist Martin Bashir zeroed in on Bell in a recent interview on MSNBC: Bashir pointedly and repeatedly asked, if what Bell wrote is true, was not Jesus irrelevant?
            I saw the interview, before I read the book, and thought Bashir was sharp and perceptive. After reading the book, I found Bashir’s “questioning” to be unfair and inaccurate. Frankly, I wondered if he had read the book, or if he was instead relying on reading summaries provided by his staff.
            Bell very much comes across as supporting the idea, Jesus is the only way. In LOVE WINS, it is Christ's work and love, which ultimately point to salvation. Any Hindu, Muslim, Jew, unchurched person, or anyone else, will find salvation only through Jesus. What Bell does is offer them the hope of finding salvation after death.
            At some point, Bell believes, even the hardest of hard-hearted sinners will turn to God—because of God's relentless love. To put it in a sound bite, Bell is saying you can surrender to Jesus now—or surrender to him later, but you WILL ultimately surrender to him.
            The idea conveyed is, in the afterlife, lots and lots of people are going to be enjoying life with God. Those who continue to reject Jesus, will be on the outside looking in—a self-imposed exile. Sooner or later, they are going to give it up and join the party.
            At the end of the book, Bell writes, if the reader wants more on hell, to consult C. S. Lewis’ THE GREAT DIVORCE. Having been a few years since I read that book, I did consult it.
            I found a number of passages I had underlined in Lewis’ book. The more I skimmed it, the more I realized Bell’s view of hell in the eternity sounded similar to Lewis’ view. Lewis did not get into near as much trouble, perhaps, because he expressed his thoughts in the form of a fictional story.
            Bell offers a scriptural Jesus, the Son of God in skin, who happened to also live the perfect human life. And if, you choose to love Jesus now, you'll enjoy the abundant life of knowing Him now. God’s reign, “heaven”, is expanded a little more on earth.
            I’m reading where some Christian leaders are wanting to disfellowship Rob Bell. (Of course, they don’t want to disfellowship C. S. Lewis. Maybe it’s because years ago, Chuck Colson said C. S. Lewis was okay with him.)
            Beware. If they do, they are going to have to disfellowship half of Christendom. The dirty little secret is a lot of people in the pews believe the same thing as Rob Bell—God is going to save most, if not all, people. 
            I suggest they not worry so much about Rob Bell. He has a high view of Jesus and of sharing good news about Jesus. He affirms the saving work of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. A lot of people in our pews don’t believe, on an emotional level, even that. Perhaps, that is what we first address.
            Obviously, I don’t have all of the answers on hell. I gave it my best shot for my church yesterday morning in a sermon I called—not jokes please—“Why Hell?” (I just finished an overview of the book of Revelation; I thought I could relax by taking on a popular subject.  J) All modesty aside, I am grateful that the sermon was well received, and you are welcome to listen to it by clicking on this link: Meanwhile, I’ll keep attempting to grow.