I feel challenged to continue to understand and live out our ministry in the world as defined by the Gospel and the Missio Dei (mission of God), not by every cultural debate and divide. Regardless of any Supreme Court decision, how will the church embody God’s righteous reign in and for the world? Jesus is Lord, not any political or cultural mindset. Both justice and righteousness matter intensely to God. Like Jesus we take our stand with and among real people where they live. But we actually kneel, submitting to God’s kingdom, confessing our own shortcomings as we profess a clear faith in God and enter into loving relationship with our neighbor. We cannot compromise God’s revealed vision of morality (but must confess that we, too, have failed) and we dare not compromise God’s revealed vision of love (even as we admit that we have in the past).
Jesus on the cross was demonstrating the incredible power of a new kind of love. Violently abused, he suffered for the sins of others. Tortured by an ancient military Empire, he suffered with conquered and marginalized people everywhere. Hanging on the cross he asked the Father God to forgive his enemies, for they did not understand what they were doing. Can we rightly live with anything else in our hearts?
In this week Christians call Holy, as we remember Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, may we join Jesus’ continuing mission to embody the righteous rule of our loving God. May that be a surprising sign in our world of something better yet to come…
The recent explosive arguments on sexuality in our culture are polarizing. Issues like contraception and same-sex marriage have brought a lot of harsh rhetoric from all sides. None of it is helpful. CNN’s Belief Blog has put out some of the most biased posts I’ve seen. My most recent attempt at a comment about the National Day of Prayer was not allowed, but dozens of slanderous and obscene anti-Christian attacks by atheists were all allowed unedited. Equally bad and more deeply saddening have been Christian attacks on other Christians of different opinions and on non-believers. If we don’t have love, we have nothing in the Christian community. We should be wise in our comments, which need to be “full of grace, seasoned with salt.” We should not further victimize members of marginalized communities like LGBT with angry mean words. But neither should we leave an ambiguous picture to our children of what loving, biblical Christians believe. Our morally conservative Christian children also face a confusing and harsh world, increasingly unwelcoming of their lifestyle and convictions.
So, my views are as follows:
I begin with a quick look at biblical passages in this debate.
Genesis 19 shows God condemning certain violence and all illicit sexuality, most specifically male homosexual and heterosexual rape. Not a definitive passage on homosexuality, but hardly supportive of it either.
Leviticus 18:22 calls the mutual homosexual male sex act an abomination. While Leviticus has quite a few strange and unique laws, this one is in a list of bedrock prohibitions which protect family relationships and the sanctity of sexuality. It cannot be dismissed without undermining sexual purity. (Leviticus 20:13 is similar)
Romans 1:26-27 condemns all illicit lustfully-inflamed sexual activity, specifically highlighting lustful homosexual acts among men and women as unnatural and provoking judgment. This would also cover orgies, all sex outside marriage, and even selfish unbridled lust within marriage-using another person purely for one’s own pleasure.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 presents the most complete image I would like to put forward. It clearly identifies homosexual offenders as wicked. But it also lists more common sins like greed, drunkenness, heterosexual immorality, and even slander as worthy of the same judgement by God.
Yet, it goes on to say that many righteous believers used to live this way, but now have been cleansed and sanctified by the Spirit in the name of Jesus. Therefore none are beyond God’s saving. This is the Radical Optimism of Grace we Nazarenes believe in. God can and will transform every repentant, fully-surrendered life. But slander is just as bad as homosexuality, so some of the so-called Christian response this week will fall under judgment apart from such repentance.
The post-modern idea of same-sex marriage is interesting, but in my view cannot overcome these biblical statements for believers. So, I’m against same-sex marriage and would probably vote against any bill proposing to support it. Yet I’d be careful about voting in favor of legislation to ban it which I deemed to be carelessly or unjustly written. We live in a free society. One which I seek to influence in biblical ways, but one which I refuse to rail angrily against at every turn. I respect the laws of the land unless they attempt to force me to go against my Christian conscience. Then I would seek peaceful and respectful methods to overturn such laws and consider nonviolent protest if called for. My highest goal, however is to win hearts and minds to Christ. Biblical prohibitions are mainly for believers. Reaching more people with love’s transforming message is more important, and in the long run more effective, than publicly arguing our beliefs.
On the contraception issue I’m thankful to Robbie Bender http://lovelifeministry.blogspot.com/2012/05/trouble-with-onan.html for pulling me into deeper reflection on this issue than I’ve done in a while. There is a great discussion here: https://www.facebook.com/RobbieBender1/posts/263828007049689?comment_id=1211118¬if_t=like . I will say that Genesis 38 has a plethora of potential applications for believers. It speaks to the intimate nature of marriage and highlights perhaps dozens of ways even married Christians can by their selfishness, deceit, and lust get sex wrong. I don’t think it could be used to oppose contraception mutually agreed to by both spouses for practical reasons. But perhaps it does contradict the unthinking use of contraception as a means to avoid praying about God’s will for children in a marriage. If it separates us from considering God’s will that’s not good. But if, after prayer, Christians conclude together that it “seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us” then it seems more supportable. But I have respect for Christians who take another view and don’t think anyone should be forced to use it, nor should laws force Christians to pay for it.
Sexual clarity is being lost. Sexual purity matters more than we may sometimes remember in this pluralistic society. Yet I want to support these views with gentleness and respect, for the sake of how the world views Christ and his church. Let’s be humble admitting all of us were lost in sin before God saved us. Even now, none of us have achieved absolute perfection. But then lets be bold in clarifying truth and grace to our kids. Don’t cave or be silent on key moral issues!
So repenting of our own sin, let’s love all people, introduce them to Jesus, teach them to follow Him, and together seek to build a society that better reflects His Kingdom of truth and grace! We can stand firm without forgetting to love even our enemies.
The interesting thing about the Bible is that it took a long time to produce. About one thousand years. It has stayed in print for 2 millenia. Sometimes I hear complaints the first time people try to read it. It’s not easy to understand in places. Names hard to pronounce. A lot of history. Deep ideas. Wild stories. You name it. I’ve heard it. But should we really be surprised that something that took so long to produce in its final form would be a challenge?
The wisdom and inspiration of Scripture rose to the top like cream. It took a while. More than one read for most folks. But many kept coming back again and again. And for some, it connected deeply pretty early on. Others found that the effort required to read it was changing them. Their minds still didn’t understand everything, but their character was changing and their hearts were strangely warmed by the process. They considered that proof of inspiration.
I took a lot of Bible courses over the years. I even got the high score on the Old Testament Comprehensive Exam in College. (Almost as cool as that time I got the high score on PacMan in High School!) But I really didn’t start to deeply connect all the dots of the Old Testament until I’d lived with it year after year while trying, failing, succeeding, and growing in the midst of real life. And teaching and co-learning with others along the way.
We’re starting a journey next week called Engage the Word. If you do it (find links here) you will learn a lot. In 40 Days you’ll hit some of the key highlights of God’s story worked out in creation. You’ll still have questions. But that’s great! That’s what gets you to the next level. But what will bump you up a few notches is inviting someone to engage with you around the Word. A church friend? Great. Better? Someone who’s never read it before. Get together once a week with them to talk about the experience. You’ll be amazed at what you’re remembering, sharing, and learning. I promise. Combine this with serving someone else’s needs? Get ready to be rocked! It might just blow the lid off your life. (In a good-finally got the pickle jar open-way, not like the trash can lid blowing down the street way…)
It takes a while. But if there’s any fast-track it’s found in sharing and serving. Let’s get started. Together!
“And can it be, that I should gain an interest in the savior’s blood. Died he for me, who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love. How can it be? That Thou my God shouldst die for me?”
Good Friday Service 7pm
NewHope Community Church of the Nazarene
If you’re a Christian leader you probably heard about Rob Bell before 2 weeks ago. But if you don’t live under a rock you’ve heard of him since then! His new book—Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived created a firestorm when a promotional video was released. It questioned traditional views on hell.
If I had to choose a Facebook category for my relationship with Rob Bell’s ideas, “it’s complicated” would win. I’ve really enjoyed some of his sermons and Nooma videos. He definitely has a pastor’s heart. He’s studied the Bible in the original languages. He gets our culture. He’s not afraid to offend. He’s a gifted communicator. All things I respect. But he’s a whipping boy for conservatives (and some of my friends.) He’s a hero to others (and some of my friends). So if I really liked or disliked something he said or did, I had to think twice to avoid offending someone. He’s a guilty pleasure one day (like brownies at 11:30pm) and big bother the next (like a zit on your chin!)
But he made his boldest move yet with Love Wins. The video was brilliant to create buzz. Last night he frustrated me with a live web event. At midnight I downloaded the book and finished by mid-morning.
Let me begin by saying Rob Bell is not a heretic. His personal views are not totally revealed, but the options presented are consistent with some ancient Christian teachers. Let me also say I can’t embrace all he presents about salvation and the afterlife. But who else could have gotten us all talking about such important issues? The book is clearly not written to debate with people like me. It’s written to engage with people outside of church life. I think it can do this well. It attempts to explain how heaven and hell fit into the good news of Jesus. He starts with the deep reservations many outside the church have with a God who eternally punishes most of humanity. This point can be offensive to Christians, but not to his audience.
He’s as controversial as he can be in the first couple chapters. He messes with our tidy notions of the gospel by showing vastly different metaphors Jesus (and Paul) used. He says a woman wrote Hebrews (not sure this is an actual conviction of his) and that traditional views of the afterlife have been used to oppress the masses through the ages. He calls his gramma’s cross-bridge painting creepy! But eventually he settles into examining the relevant Scriptures. He creatively (somewhat ambiguously) lets his views come through over time. More than ever it’s hard to pin him down at times. As usual, no footnotes. He supports his views only with Scripture references and stories.
Heaven is the fullness of God’s Kingdom on a renewed earth. In an important sense for Bell’s Jesus, heaven is wherever God rules. The goal of salvation is to reunite earth and heaven. Heaven ultimately won’t be another “place” we go, it’s another reality that comes here. This part can be strongly supported by Scripture.
One genius of the book is in the case he makes that salvation, heaven and hell have a lot more to do with this life than we may realize. We should listen to Bell on this. We’ve all known people who’ve made a hell on earth by rejecting God’s vision for life. Many Christians have experienced eternal life as peace on earth now. Often Jesus’ talk of hell is a warning to religious people to change their behavior. It’s surprising that he often says sinners may be in the Kingdom and religious people may not. He spends a lot of time explaining the behaviors and attitudes of people who experience heaven. Rather than implying a magical character change for Christians at death, Jesus implies the importance of letting grace change you now. (a view Nazarenes have always embraced.)
Bell says this change is what would allow us to enjoy heaven (the fullness of the Kingdom). But, bravely for a man in Grand Rapids, he emphasizes free will. It’s our choice. God’s love let’s us choose. Hell is essentially refusing to accept/trust God’s version of our story. We bring destruction on ourselves whenever we reject God’s love & forgiveness. 2 images dominate.
1. Luke 15’s parable of the father with 2 sons shows our options. Finally give up living a faulty story and come home to the party (prodigal son) or stubbornly refuse to enjoy it (elder brother).
2. Revelation 21:25 (describing the heavenly city coming down for God to finally make his dwelling among humanity.) “On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.”
Bell says “And then there are others who ask, if you get another chance after you die, why limit that chance to one-off immediately after death? And so they expand the possibilities, trusting that there will be endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God.
As long as it takes, in other words.” (p.55)
This is a form of universalism, but Bell doesn’t exactly say it’s his view. He rightfully demonstrates that a minority of Christians in every age have believed this way. His motive is evangelism. He spends the rest of the book attempting to make a compelling case for accepting/trusting in God’s story now. Why miss a moment of eternal life? His goal is to reach those for whom one and done eternal punishment is the one barrier to accepting the Christian story. “You don’t have to believe this to be a Christian,” Bell says.
He hasn’t convinced me that this “eventually view” is the most biblical view. But neither would I be upset if this turned out to be true. I don’t want anyone to suffer the torment of hell. I want everyone to experience eternal life. (In the tradition of Wesley, Inclusivism is closer to my view, as in Wesley’s “On Heaven” sermon.) I have concerns that some could put this choice off, not feeling motivated to choose now. But Bell makes clear the destructive consequences of delay.
I reread portions of the book this afternoon and gained a less defensive perspective. I can’t embrace the book fully. But because he rooted this presentation in the Scriptures, demonstrated the centrality of Christ, and has a clearly evangelistic motive I’m glad he wrote this book.
I hope it creates an opportunity for more people to accept/trust God’s version of the story. Even if this “eventually” view is mistaken, once people are walking with Christ in the reality of the Kingdom, he can correct any errors. (Not that we should offer bait and switch if we don’t believe something has validity.)
Doctrine matters. Truth has boundaries. I’m more traditional than Bell. But at least we’re talking about heaven/hell. I hope more people find peace with God. I plan to engage people in conversation about the book. I pray this conversation gets us all in touch with eternal realities (saving/sanctifying grace) surrounding us every moment, offering to transform us in preparation for enjoying heaven forever. The Gospel really is good news and I can’t wait to experience it in fullness! It’s time we celebrated it. Easter’s right around the bend!
The link above is to a CNN story comparing the actual significance of two very different kinds of stories and the relative coverage given to each. Here’s to fallen heroes. Fallen superstars have every resource to put their lives back together. But these soldiers gave all they had to keep the world free. Now their families will have to find hope in the ashes and move forward.
May God bless their families.
The media doesn’t get it this week. But the media often gives us what we want. So we must not get it. Jesus gets it.
“Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Jesus in John 15:13
It’s Lent. Giving up something? How about your life? Jesus did. The soldiers did. The moment they put on the uniform, their lives were no longer their own. Have we forgotten? That’s what the baptismal waters represent for us. I died. A new me is raised with Christ.
Paul wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Let’s spend Lent letting God help us give our lives back to Jesus and the Gospel. Then let’s accept God’s help to keep on living that way until our journey is done. No. greater. love. Soldiers. Jesus. Us.
Grace and Peace to you!
Twenty-nine. That’s number of students who just completed Sharing Our Faith, a 1 credit-hour course I just taught at Olivet Nazarene University. The twenty-nine and I studied to learn more about our faith so we could be ready to help someone else who may have spiritual questions. We also learned together about being a good friend and co-worker. Sometimes believers are better at pushing a message than living one. One interesting idea from the book Workplace Grace: The most important way to earn the right to be heard is to be good at your job. If care about reaching out to others who need faith, then get good at what you do everyday. Integrity speaks louder than words. On page 29 it lists Daniel, David, Nehemiah and others as heroes of the faith who worked secular jobs with integrity and changed the world.
Just Walk Across the Room is another great collection of resources that emphasizes how to show love in the simplest ways to others. On page 29 it says, “It’s as though Jesus is saying to his followers, “What I did as I walked across the cosmos all those years ago, I now want you to do. Every day, try to point every person you meet to me…” Most people get a little terrified to be asked challenging questions of faith, but anyone can say hello and introduce themselves to a neighbor, co-worker, or person standing alone at an event. This kind of simple hospitality is another important way to show love. Who knows where some of these conversations might lead? But it can actually save a life to say hello to someone who looks discouraged. Just knowing one other person might care, can keep a person going. The goal is not to convert someone. The goal is to love them like Jesus. And to be willing to listen to their story and share your own if the opportunity arises. Knowing them changes us for the better as well.
I was impressed with how much they cared and how hard they worked. We prayed for friends, we laughed about stories. We even threw a party at the end because it’s one of the best expressions of the Kingdom!
If they all make a difference in one life each, that doubles the impact. If the chain goes on from there it gets exciting pretty fast. I guess that’s how the faith made it all the way from Jerusalem to Chicagoland 2,000 years later.
On the Second to last day of class I told everyone that I was looking forward to seeing them all one day when we stand before God. I told them the goal is hear Jesus say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant.” I told them how great it will be to stand and hear these words because their faith in Christ opened the door to God’s grace that made us whole. But then I said I hope we get a chance to hang out together while that’s still going on. I can’t wait to see all the people who experience heaven because these students cared. I think all 29 will be fist-bumping each other as they overhear their friends, co-workers, family, and neighbors being told “Well done, you good and faithful servant.” I can’t imagine a greater feeling in the world! Knowing that you had some small part in helping someone experience saving-faith in God. It’s a vision to live toward with our whole lives. We can bring heaven to earth now and experience the fullness of the Kingdom, then. 29=pure joy forever for who knows how many others! Can’t wait. 29
When was the last time God opened a door for you to share your faith with someone else? When was the last time God nudged you to start a new friendship just to show love and care? What could God help you do today to show compassion to someone else?