Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Top Movies of the Year... in 2012!

Disclaimer: I wrote most of this post in October. It would have been more surprising to make this list while there was plenty of this year left and before every movie critic out there started making these lists... but I still think you'll like it. Also, while this is a "top" list, it's more the movies I'm looking forward to. Neither Midnight in Paris or Moneyball made my list last year but that's because I wasn't looking forward to them until I saw them.

So I love two things: lists and movies. This post combines those two things into one thing.

What follows is the list of movies I am most looking forward to next year. It's not healthy to constantly look to the future so I intentionally wait until the latest possible time to put together this list so that I won't miss out on enjoying the movies that are already here. Now that all of the movies on last year's list have come out, I can finally put together this one.

I hope you enjoy. :)

Honorable Mention: Skyfall (November 9th), The Lorax (March 2nd) and The Amazing Spider-man (July 4th)
Skyfall is the next James Bond film. I loved Casino Royale and was bored/nauseous while watching Quantum of Solace. I hope Skyfall is more Royal and less Solace. As for "The Lorax", I love Dr Seuss and loved Despicable Me (the studio also making Lorax) so it seems like I should like this one. That said, it's a story about cutting down trees. Even if I don't like it, I can get some serious street cred with my more environmentally conscious friends. Spider-man is Spider-man. I don't know why they're rebooting it already but I'll still see it.

5. Brave- June 22nd
Besides lists and movies in general, I love Pixar. The worst Pixar movie is better than 90% of other movies. This one has its pros and cons. The cons: It looks similar to "How to Train Your Dragon" other than it involves a bear. The pros: "How to Train Your Dragon" was a pretty good movie. Also, half of the cast was in Harry Potter at one point. (The Grey Lady, Mrs. Weasley, Professor Trelawney, Hagrid) That's not to mention late night host and hilarious comedian Craig Ferguson. Although Ferguson was in HTTYD so I'm not sure if that's actually a pro or con yet.

4. The Hunger Games- March 23rd
I'm currently reading "Mockingjay", the 3rd book in the Hunger Games trilogy and if the movie is anything like the book, it should be great. The books were pretty much responsible for me not getting any homework done or really sleeping much during the month of September. The premise, the plot twists, the characters... this book had everything. It's hard for a movie to get even close to matching the quality of the book that it is being adapted from but I have high hopes for this one. Why? This movie is the rare case where the author of  the book not only is involved with the movie, she personally wrote the script.

3. The Avengers- May 4th
This movie would be the top on this list in a normal year. Fortunately, this is not a normal year. Growing up as a fan of comic-book superheroes you always wished that you could get other heroes to show up in the same world as other ones. This movie is finally making that possible. Being able to see Iron Man, Captain America and The Hulk all fighting at the same time is going to be pretty sweet. And it makes sense. I mean really, why wouldn't Superman just fly in and take care of people like The Joker for Batman? A perfectly good hospital was ruined in The Dark Knight... you don't think a guy that can fly faster than a speeding bullet couldn't have stopped that? (Yes, I know... none of the characters in this movie are in the same comic book universe as Batman or Superman. I just thought it was a good example.)

2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey- December 14th
This has occasionally been on the top of my list. It could be 1B. I'm not a fan of ties though. It's why I watch baseball. Anyway, this should be fantastic. I just saw the trailer after watching The Two Towers and Return of the King and I'd forgotten how much I'd missed these movies coming out. I won't be attached to it in the same way that someone who had grown up reading the books will be but I love the LOTR films so this is one that I guarantee I will be there opening night. (Probably not the midnight showing. I can't stand people giving the plot out loud as their watching it and that's typically the crowd you find at those. I've gotten old.)

1. The Dark Knight Rises- July 20th
When I doubt that this should be on the top of my list I just rewatch the trailer. I love love love Batman. Grew up watching the cartoon. Went to go see Batman Forever and Batman & Robin in the theatres. (They were much better when I was a kid.) Went to go see Batman Begins at 10:30am the day it came out because I'm pretty sure they didn't bother doing a midnight showing. Saw The Dark Knight at midnight and several other times in the theatre after that. When someone does something well for awhile, they earn your trust. Christopher Nolan has my trust going into this movie that it will be a fitting conclusion to his Batman trilogy. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Change of Plans

Who? Uh... me.

What? Taking a semester off of grad school and working at Panera Bread in Caledonia, MI to save up money for the fall.

When? Today (December 28th)

Where? Michigan. It's the one that looks like a mitten.

Why? Well, that's a little bit harder to answer. I'm definitely glad that I went to TEDS this fall (assuming that I passed my classes.) I've enjoyed the friendships I've been able to have with my friends here. I've enjoyed working at the Panera Bread here in the suburbs of Chicago. It really came down to two things: church and money.

The money aspect is easiest to explain. I love Panera... but it's hard to pay for grad school on minimum wage hours. I knew that I needed to take a break from school to save up money because while I will probably go into some debt to pay for grad school at some point, I don't want to have to go into so much debt that I'm regretting going at all for years afterwards.

The role that church played in my decision was that while there are many great churches within reasonable driving distance of where I'm living, I didn't have any that I fell into place with. While I could have done better at putting my foot in the door to get involved, it wouldn't have been to the degree that I will be able to do so when I'm back home.

There's also the fact that I will hopefully be headed back to school in the fall of 2012. I wasn't really motivated to get involved with a church at this point only to head to some other area a few months later. My church back home is already used to me coming and going over the past few years and the friendships still remain so it's not quite as tough to do.

I'll be taking my 2nd semester of Beginning Greek through Moody Distance Learning so that I can stay on pace with that for wherever I am next fall. (Again, assuming that I passed Beginning Greek I.)

I've been doing a lot of thinking during the decision process and I thought about the verse that we often cling to in Proverbs 3:5-6. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." The biggest thing that this has reminded me of is that we're often walking crooked paths. Life isn't expected to be easy even when we're obedient. Situations get messy. Hard decisions have to be made.

 God could promise us here that He'll make life easy for the obedient. He doesn't. He calls His children to trust Him and then at some point, not determined by the amount of our trust, He'll make the paths that we're on... the ones that don't make sense... the ones that don't go according to "plan"... the ones that we can't see if we'll be able to reach the desired end... He'll make them straight.

I think that if we could look back after He "makes our paths straight" we'd see that they really were the whole time. That's why we have to give up on our own ability to make up plans and trust Him to know what He's doing. I can already attest to the way that God has worked in this situation. I practically got hired for the job at Panera in Michigan just for saying that I'm working at Panera now. In this economy, even a job at Panera can't be taken for granted.

I'm thankful that this seems to be the crooked path that God is making straight in His timing. :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Back to Blogging

I normally have gaps between posts because I don't have enough to write that I could pump out one every day but it has been an abnormally large gap since the last post. I'm writing this to say... I'll be back. Soon.

I've actually already written a few posts but haven't had the time to edit them enough to publish so they'll be coming within the next few days. Mainly after finals are done. It's hard to believe how much these classes get in the way of something as important as blogging. :p

I thought I'd give a little glimpse of what's to come with 10 titles for future blog posts.

Ok, most of these are ones I'm not actually writing...

But a few are.

(Ooooohhh. Suspense!)

Here they are:

I Liked Newt Gingrich Before it was Cool: A Hipster Take on Politics

Would You Still Want to Go to Heaven if it was in New Jersey?

Finding Nic Mc: The Story of the One Guy Who Doesn't Use Facebook

The Gospel According to Kermit the Frog and/or Bill Cosby

The Top 5 Movies of the Year... in 2012!

Why the Detroit Lions are Going to Win the Super Bowl... in 2057!

It's Hard to go through the Drive Thru at McDonald's When Your Windows are Frozen Shut.

The Top 12 Books that I Bought but Never Read

French Pressed: Why the Best Tasting Method of Making Coffee is Also the Messiest

Believe it or Not, Soccer is a Real Sport

The Chuck E. Cheese's for Adults: Chuck E. Cheese's

Hope you enjoyed. I'll be back with something more substantive after finals! :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why I gave Newt Gingrich 10 bucks... (less political than you're expecting)

No really, I promise... this isn't a campaign post.

A couple of weeks ago, sometime late at night, probably after watching a little too much Hulu, I gave Newt Gingrich 10 bucks. Why, besides the fact that I have a serious lack of judgment late at night, would I do that?


I think Newt is smart, a good communicator, has detailed answers...

and probably isn't going to win.

Don't get me wrong, there's some Newtmentum going on out there. He made a big deal few days ago when he moved into 3rd place... 7 percentage points behind 2nd place... 15 percentage points behind the leader... in a single poll. Needless to say, there's still time in the race but there's he's going to need a lot more Newtmentum if he actually wants to be a contender.

So, if he's such a long-shot, why donate the money?

It's easy. I spend money on what I believe in.

I believe in Newt $10 worth.

Just take a step back and look at where your money goes... What do you believe in?

You can fully believe in something that you don't give your money to. I believed in my local Congressman a lot more than I believe in Newt but I've never given him a dime. I have canvassed the streets for him on two occasions (both times in flip flops... bad idea.) but never given him any money.

That's just to say that this isn't a hard and fast rule, but like Matthew 12:35 says "A good man brings good things out of the good stored in him and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored in him." In other words, in the long run your actions (including your spending) will reflect what's going on inside.

I don't know about you but if I looked at my bank statement I would have to say that the thing I believe in the most... is myself.

And that needs to change.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Leading Without Being in Charge

So, this week I start working at Panera Bread. I realized this afternoon that this is my first job outside of a specifically Christian environment since I was 16. Even that job was a restaurant owned and made up of a majority of Dutch Christian Reformed folks and was closed on Sunday. Since then I've either worked with all Christians in a business owned by members of my church, at a Christian college or at my church itself.

This wasn't the plan.

I went to Moody so that I could work in youth ministry. I'm going to seminary so that I can work in youth ministry more effectively. There's a part of me that feels like working at Panera isn't fulfilling that calling very well. It feels like a misuse of stewardship of gifting. Misstewardship?

Things don't always go to plan though. Actually, it seems they rarely do.

What this job at Panera is, if I actually step back and look at it, is a blessing. I will be able to work well in an environment that isn't made up completely of believers. This can only put me in a better place to do evangelism, of building relationships with people and hopefully, by the grace of God, point people closer to knowing Christ. It is a job. It will bring in money. And I really love the broccoli cheddar soup. Especially with a discount.

The real issue that this raises is what to do about ministry? The beautiful thing is that God has called all believers to be ministers, not just the ones paid to do it. I'm still waiting on a church to get back to me about a position but at this point I'd rather deal with the situation I have than hypothetical situations in the future. The opportunity then to, after spending a few years doing youth ministry, after completing a degree in youth ministry, go into a youth ministry setting and not be "the boss" that I was applying to be presents some unique benefits:

1. It's God's ministry, not mine.
One of the biggest traps that someone in vocational ministry can fall into is when they start to think of a ministry as "theirs." Don't get me wrong, a pastor has responsibility for care for those under him. The danger of thinking of a ministry as our own is that it makes it seems as any of the fruit, any of the growth is our doing. Faith is a gift from God and so although it is an honor to be a tool in the process of seeing people come to Christ, we are not the ones that brought them there. The humbling experience of going and continuing to work under someone else in youth ministry will hopefully amplify these truths in my life.

2. If I stick in youth ministry, I'll always have a boss. (besides God)
Youth Pastors, by the nature of the job, are not the ones in charge. They are almost always working under a senior/lead pastor who has the final word on most big decisions. The senior/lead pastor has others that he is (hopefully) responsible to but the youth pastor (and other pastoral staff) have the specific responsibility to submit to the senior/lead pastor's leadership. This trait of submission is hopefully something that will continue to be cultivated in my life as I continue to submit to another youth pastor's leadership.

3. If I ask for God's leading, I need to be willing to be led.
I often pray for God's leading. I believe that God has ordained the steps that I'm taking but I want to be taking them in obedience. It's funny that a lot of times I'm really consistent about praying for God to lead me in His paths and then I am angry/grumpy about the paths that He seems to be leading me down. I'm not actually praying for God's leading, I'm praying for God to implement my leading. The plan was to find a youth ministry position. For reasons that are clear to God and not to me, He sent me to Panera instead. I pray that I will learn to submit more fully to God's plans and that I'll look for the opportunities and relationships that He is sending in my life both at Panera and at whatever youth ministry I start volunteering for.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The sanctifying process of looking for a job...

I'm not a big fan of rejection. I know, I know... few people are.

Unless you're a previously established superstar in a specific field, looking for a job is full of rejection. You give someone your resume, you lay out your experience, you try to make an impression and then more often than not they say "Thanks so much for your interest..." (That happens to be the worst opening line of an email to read. It's like asking a girl out and as soon as she responds "I'm really flattered..." you know that you're toast.)

Part of the problem is that interviewing for jobs seems to go completely against what we hold to be true the rest of the time. "Be humble!" and yet interviews seem to be centered around self-promotion. "Think of others higher than yourself" and yet job searching seems to be a process of looking out for yourself rather than others.

Is it possible to look for jobs and still be Christlike?

Well, here's the best answer I could up with.

Keep in mind that it's not like I've actually been successful in finding the job. :p

1. Represent yourself accurately but positively
This is a tight rope for me. I have a hard time trying to make a case of why I should get a job without straying into exaggerations of experiences and skills. The truth is that more often than not I actually undermine my giftedness, skills and experience in an attempt to not come across as full of myself. It isn't a sin to be accurate about those things though. Confidence in who God has made me, the things He's allowed me to do and the skills He's given me to do them is not the same as self-confidence or over-confidence. It's confidence in God's calling.

2. Keep the glory of God as the motivation
This is the easiest to say and the hardest to practice. God's glory is much more motivating than looking for a job out of necessity or because I'm looking for acceptance. Even when I'm hit with the dreaded "We're going in another direction" response I can take joy and satisfaction out of a job pursuit done to please the Lord. If I am truthful in my self-representation and faithful in my taking advantage of the opportunities that I am presented than I can find satisfaction in God and His love for His children.

3. Remember that God is the one who creates jobs
That's right, I can't blame President Obama or Congress because they are just the tools that God uses to do His Will. While I am responsible to go and pursue job opportunities and go to interviews, it is God Himself that provides the job. I can't count on my fingers how many times I have really wanted something only to realize later that it would have been terrible for me. While it would be really nice to be cashing paychecks already I don't necessarily want to be given everything I want. I want to want what God wants for me.

Like #2, this is easier said than done. There really is sanctification found in realizing that I'm at wit's end and need God to provide my needs though. I can't do this myself. I spoke to a youth group last week about clinging to God in the midst of hard times and it is a blessing to say that I need to preach that truth to myself.

Like David in Psalm 13 I'm not sure why God hasn't worked in the way that I need Him to yet. In spite of that though, I can cling to Him and praise Him for all of the ways that He is already blessing me and trust Him to continue His good work. Even when His timing isn't what I'd like it to be, knowing that He is there and that He cares is more than enough for now.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

After Ahnuld: Politics in the Era of the Recall

In 2003 the voters of California voted to remove their governor, Gray Davis, and replace him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. If I was telling you this in 2002 you would probably think I was crazy. In fact, I did tell someone prior to the recall election and they did think I was crazy. I couldn't see the future but even at the early stages of the recall I knew that the chance to put the guy who played the Kindergarten Cop in office was not something the people of California would miss out on. This isn't to demean Californians... it was a novelty that I'm not sure many people would have turned down (see Minnesota and Jesse Ventura) It was a crazy time. I mean seriously, the Game Show Network took the craziest candidates and had them "debate."

Enough about the history of it. If you want to know more, there's a Wikipedia article about it. It's where I got most of that info. The point is that outside of the novelty was that Gray Davis was being recalled because people were upset about the price of their electric bills. Basically. Someone who actually lived there during that time could probably give a better reason but the bottom line is that he hadn't committed any serious crimes, he was being recalled because people were unhappy with his job performance.

In recent history that hadn't been the case. Leaders had been removed for crimes or serious ethics violations. They still are *cough* Kwame Kilpatrick* cough... *cough*Blago *cough* but since the successful recall in 2003 we live in a different world...

In this world, recalling of elected officials is becoming more and more common.

In Michigan, an effort led mostly by teacher union members is afoot to recall the governor because of his budget cutting process. What they don't realize is that in Michigan the Lt. Governor would take over if he was recalled and he was put on the ticket because conservatives didn't think the Governor was conservative enough.

In Wisconsin, six state senators are facing recall today over their policies regarding collective bargaining rights. Plans are also underway to recall the governor but under Wisconsin law they have to wait until he's actually had the job for a little bit longer.

The common thread between these two situations is that it is purely over ideological differences that they are being recalled. They have not broken any laws they are simply implementing policies that some people do not like.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that conservatives don't like some of President Obama's liberal policies. In the same way, liberals will not like conservative policies. It makes sense. That doesn't give people the right to demand that the elected official step down though. What it does is put us on the slippery slope that only ends with politicians who, even more than they do now, choose to do what is popular rather than what they believe to be right.

Politicians without conviction.

You might argue that we're already there but if that's true we shouldn't go and recall them anytime they do show conviction, on either side of the aisle!

I've got two pieces of advice. One for everybody and one specifically for my brother and sister Christians.

First, let's stop this era of the constant threat of recall and let democracy work. Even if someone is elected that isn't from your party, that has a different ideology than you do, they will be up for election again. It's the natural way the government is set up to remove politicians that we don't like because of their policy choices. Politicians should be able to focus on governing, not fighting an extra election in August after only a year of being elected...

Secondly for Christians, we need to do better at submitting to our elected officials. Romans 13 tells us that the government is God's servant for our good. And Paul was talking about Roman emperors when he wrote that! We aren't subjecting ourselves well and we are not spreading the name of Christ very well if we are constantly berating the politicians we don't like. If we are posting hateful things about them on our Facebook, how can we be submitting to them? Yes, it's ok to have a political point of view. If you have a problem with how things are being run, then contact your representative with your displeasure... that's what you're supposed to do in our system of government!

Being so caught in up how you think the country should be run so that people know more about your politics and the way you feel about specific politicians than they do your faith is a tragedy.

It would be much better for the state of politics in America if we'd stop recalling... and started praying.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Marriage: The "Unwritten" Requirement in Ministry

I'm still planning on heading to grad school in two weeks but that doesn't keep me from looking at what Youth Pastor jobs are out there. I mean, you never know, maybe there's one where they don't care that I'm going through school and in fact want to pay for it, supply a free house and still pay me enough to satisfy my Starbucks addiction. One can hope.

I was looking at job post a few months ago and saw one in Pennsylvania that seemed like a good church. I read the expectations and felt like I could meet most of them. I read the doctrinal statement and was glad that we were on the same page of the essentials. Finally, I went through the job requirements: bachelor's degree- check, a call to youth ministry- check, be married- uh, not check.

Seriously... "be married"?

I tweeted this after I read it and almost immediately got some support from a friend that's youth pastoring while single. The subject had already been something in the back of my mind for awhile though. While in my first year of college, a roommate asked if I planned on getting married and I replied "Yeah, but we'll have to see." His response was "Well, don't you plan on working in a church?" At the time I took him to just be a bit extreme but a couple of blogs that I had read a few months prior to this job posting brought up the same issue. Both were responding to a New York Times article on the subject but one was from a single pastor and one was from a seminary president. The pastor wrote about how his church had really come around him and learned to appreciate his singleness. He wrote that he'd like to be married but that it hasn't happened yet. The seminary president wrote that he tells students that, whether it's right or wrong, they'll have a harder time getting a job in a church if they're single.

While this made me angry, he's probably right.

A lot of churches operate under the impression that the reason their pastor or youth pastor needs to be married is that there's no way they could minister to both men and women, guys and girls if they aren't married. You know what, that's probably true in some cases!

There is a barrier there when there's an issue that should be dealt with by a girl speaking to a girl or a guy speaking to a guy and someone who is single doesn't have that spouse there to step in. On the other hand, singleness is a gift... not a curse. Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 7 that the unmarried are able to focus more intently on ministry. There's less to worry about. It's not that singleness is better than being married because it's clear that, on the whole, we were not meant to be alone. Both are gifts, however, and both have their limitations.

All of that being said, I don't write this as someone who intends to be unmarried for the rest of my life.

I write this as someone who doesn't want to get married just to get a job.

In an age where so many are constantly fighting for the Biblical definition of marriage, it just doesn't make sense to view marriage a job requirement rather than understanding it as a gift that God gives at His own discretion. (This has nothing to do with the need for guys to initiate and everything to do with God's sovereignty.) Marriage is so special and unique that it's what God uses as a picture of His relationship to His church. We cheapen it by simply viewing it as a needed skill set for ministry.

So, this is a call for those in a position to hire people into ministry. Marriage is good. It is not a job requirement though. Let's stop treating singleness like a disability and start treating it like a time in life that God has placed people to be able to serve Him with a single focus.

I also pray that when I am married... I do not forget what it is like to be single.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Link to my sermon on Romans 6

Just thought I would post the link to the sermon I did last Sunday on Romans 6: "Living Like You're Dead to Sin" in the rare case that someone sees this that doesn't know me on Facebook....

Monday, July 25, 2011

Friendship according to Winnie the Pooh

The following is a review/analysis of the topic of friendship in the movie Winnie the Pooh. If you do not want the story ruined, you should see it first. I imagine this may be the kind of story that is still enjoyable if you know what's coming... but still, go see it.

So last Thursday I went with some good friends to see Winnie the Pooh. For those of you that are only familiar with "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" or "My Friends Tigger and Pooh" you might wonder why we went to go see a "kids movie." The truth is that when Disney wants to stick a little closer to the actual Pooh books, the stories are actually really funny and clever. This was the case for the movie on Thursday.

Besides laughing and general enjoyment, I felt something I didn't expect during the movie. Anger. I was not happy with Owl. Owl is someone who I looked up to as a kid, probably because I could relate with his love of books and because Pooh just isn't bright most of the time. (He's a bear of very little brains.)

Owl, as it turns out, is actually someone who acts like he knows a lot more than he does. He is obsessed with himself. Basically, he's the perfect hipster. (Maybe if he was a little more fashionable.) He is so focused on covering his lack of knowledge that he sends his friends out on missions that he doesn't seem to need to take an active part in. You can't really dislike him fully because he really is oblivious to what he's doing.

Contrast that with Winnie the Pooh, though. Pooh spends most of the movie focused on honey (or hunny) and has a hard time focusing when he hasn't quite had lunch yet. He even goes into a large honey-induced hallucination. He struggles to keep his mind off of honey and on their quest to find Eeyore's tail. Eventually, by the end of the story, Pooh just needs his honey. He stops by Owl's house, rings the bell that looks suspiciously like a donkey tail and goes inside for a small, smattering of honey. After Owl describes where he found his new door bell rope, Pooh realizes that it's Eeyore's tail and immediately leaves to give it back to him. Owl asks "Don't you want to stay for some honey?" and Pooh responds "I would very much but I have a friend who needs his tail back."

Pooh's wants were less important than his friend Eeyore's needs. If you know anything about Pooh and Hunny, you would know how important Pooh's friends are to him. Contrast Owl's constant talk about himself and his willingness to get others to do what he is not willing to do with Pooh who is willing to set aside what he desperately wants for his friends and I think we can see easily what the admirable quality in friendship is.

May I be a little less like Owl today,  a little less focused on myself and a little more like Pooh, willing to fulfill the needs of my friends even if it means I miss out on something that I want.

PS Owl's not so bad. He's just insecure.

Friday, July 22, 2011

World Cup Final vs. Facing the Giants

This post will have two openings. First, I'd like to clarify myself on Christian movies before I get started. Christian movies are easy to bag on. They usually have poor acting, a simple story line and usually a TV star from the 80s that may or may not be a Christian but definitely needs a paycheck. We simply cannot fault non-Christians for not watching most of these movies. I do think that they hold a special place for Christians because of the specifically Christian message they can tell. I do think "non-Christian movies" can also tell specifically Christian messages but we'll get to that with my review of Winnie the Pooh next week...

Facing the Giants is one of those that I don't know how much of an impact it had outside of the church but it is definitely a movie that has had a lot of reach inside of the church. It's a story full of hope, the power of prayer and the desire to see God do big things. It's also a film that drives me crazy.

Now, for the second beginning of this post... I payed attention to the Women's World Cup long before it was trendy to do so (ok, maybe when Sports Illustrated told me a week or so before that it was happening) and I had been following the US team pretty faithfully. Unlike men's soccer, the women's team actually has a good chance of doing well in the World Cup so it's a chance to see good soccer and watch America be successful at stuff.

I actually didn't watch the USA-Brazil match live. I had to choose between lunch with family/friends and the game and I chose actual people over tv. It was an amazing game that captured the attention of the nation. Even watching the replay a couple days later on ESPN Classic gave me goosebumps. This team seemed destined to join the Miracle on Ice hockey team in the history books of great champions.

Something happened on the way to destiny though.

Back to Facing the Giants... the first time I watched the movie I was loving it for the most part. In fact, when the team loses in the playoffs and the team still knelt down to praise God even after a loss I wanted to do the one thing I've never thought people did in the movies: stand and cheer. The movie doesn't stop there though and literally ends with everyone getting what they wanted. The infertile have children, the guy with a car that doesn't run gets a car and the team somehow gets back in the playoffs and the wind literally changes direction so that they win. I'm not opposed to happy endings. I love Disney films. Those things always have happy endings. What I didn't like is that the story it was telling is that the Christian life ends that way.

Final switch to the soccer game. Finding a place to watch the game was one of my highest priorities for Sunday afternoon. I got together with friends and went to B-dubs and started watching the game. My Amtrak train had to leave shortly after the 2nd half started so I wasn't going to see the end of the game but I was confident that the 1-0 lead would be more than enough. It was a shock to read on my cell phone that the team had lost in penalty kicks. It shouldn't have gone this way...

Life doesn't always have a "happy ending" when we look at what we think is the end of the story though. We don't always get free cars, couples can't always get pregnant, the wind doesn't always change. While we see the example of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho we can also see Jesus talking to his disciples. They see a blind man on the street and ask if it's because of his own sin or his parents' sin that he's blind. Jesus tells them that it's not from sin but because God's works were going to be displayed in him.

Sometimes God gives us the things that we ask Him for. Sometimes the wind does change and we can rejoice in the blessings that He gives us... but sometimes He allows us to lose so that His glory can be seen in a greater way. 

The loss to Japan was disappointing to the team and to a nation that wanted to celebrate a deserving victory.

Sometimes though, we don't get what we want or deserve. 

Much more often than we realize, that's a good thing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What would you do with a Million Dollars?

So this weekend I traveled to Chicago, IL. There were a few reasons that this was a good week to visit. There were good friends that also were going to be in town at the same time. It was a chance to visit the downtown Chick-fil-a for the first time. My main reason for coming, however, was to audition for the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" game show.

Knowing useless trivia is my bread and butter. There's a reason that Wikipedia is one of my most visited pages on my web browser. There are few things that I am more confident about than the fact that I could be very successful on a show involving answering trivia questions. (Especially when it's multiple choice.) So, because of this, I went to Chicago, ran from lunch at Chick-fil-a to the commuter train to the racetrack where the auditions were being held.

I waited in line. Eventually we were moved to another line inside of the racetrack complex. Finally the line moved up to a conference room where everyone was handed a free t-shirt, magnet and ticket to a horse race sometime in the next few months. On a normal occasion that would be enough for me. Just the experience of doing something out of the ordinary like this would be worth it. I knew I could do better though.

We were handed a test in an envelope and told not to open it. After everyone was seated and we were given instructions we took a 10-minute test involving 30 multiple choice trivia questions. Only the top scores would move on to the interview with a producer. I wouldn't have admitted it but anything less than moving past the trivia quiz would have been a failure.

I moved on. :)

When I got to the interview they asked me about something funny I wrote on my application (I promised to overthrow the teachers when running for 8th grade student council... somehow didn't win. Kinda fishy.) Then to close out the interview they asked what I would do if I won a Million Dollars. The truth is that my motivation was just to win the game. I hadn't given a lot of thought to the money. I knew that I would pay off my school bills and not have to worry about getting a job while in grad school but they wanted something a little more interesting. I guess I'm just too pragmatic.

After a couple seconds of thinking I told them that seeing as ministry was my passion in life that I would fund projects around the world that could use help. I'm sure I sounded like a Miss America contestant. As I sat waiting for my train back downtown into the city I thought about whether or not I had been truthful in my answer. I came to 3 options I could use the money for:

1. Buying something I could never own- I jokingly told a friend that I should have said I would buy 100 years worth of season tickets to the Detroit Lions. The truth is that there is an allure in all of a sudden having the resources to purchase something that I probably will never purchase with the salary of a youth pastor with grad school debts. Boats, houses, Rolex watches, designer clothes... all of these things that would probably only be purchasable if I did something like win a Million Dollars...

2. Set it aside for security. This would be more than just paying for my school bills. I know that if I set this money aside then I wouldn't have to worry about retirement or paying my currently non-existent kids' education. I would never have to worry about finances again when I have a $750,000 safety net in the bank. I'd never have to live in the apartment that has less space than a normal bathroom and more cockroaches than a normal trash dump. I'd never have to worry about losing a job and being homeless. There would be that security there. As someone who'd like to be married sometime it really would take a lot of pressure off of finances.

3. Give most of it away. I'd be pretty committed to giving at least 10% to my church. Even opportunities like a game show come from the Lord and it's His money to distribute as He sees fit. It's why I'm faithful to give when my paycheck is $150 now because I want to be faithful with what He's given me. So the question becomes, what about the money after that? Would I regret helping a missionary if I all of a sudden lose a job or have a child with a serious health problem? Could I trust the organizations I helped not to use it simply for the 1st and 2nd purposes above?

The answer to the problem

The problem I see with spending it on things I would never be able to buy is that it really reveals what's important to me. It's evident already what's important to most Americans. Things. We build up our supply of things and things and more things. We evaluate how we're doing in life by the number of things that we have. The truth is that I think that most of those things would leave me feeling pretty empty. Especially 100 years worth of tickets to the Detroit Lions. The Bible never says that it's wrong to have money but it does say that the love of money is the root of evil. I would probably buy a nicer car, maybe a few other things that aren't excessive but are currently out of reach.

The second issue is one of security. Is it wrong to be secure? It seems like security is more of an American/Western idea than a Biblical one. I'm not sure that it's wrong to be secure though. There are people out there saying that you aren't trusting God to supply your needs if you have a savings account. It seems like that's a little like saying you aren't trusting God to protect you if you drive down the correct side of the road. I think God blesses common sense. There is another side of security though where I know that I would miss out on my faith being purified in the stress of needing to rely on God to supply my needs if I always lived in a giant safety net. Some security would be helpful but too much would be, instead of a love of money, a love of myself.

Finally, the prospect of giving the money away. Some people have the Spiritual gift of giving and would give away their t-shirt if they saw someone that needed it. I'm not sure that I'm gifted in that particular way but I do have to ask, if I had the resources to help needs be met and the Gospel to be spread, how could I live with myself holding on to the money? What cost are a few "toys" if there are children without water? What cost is security if there are people dying without knowledge of the Gospel?

So, while I don't know that I would give all the money away, I believe now that I was giving my actual answer to the producer. I would probably make sure I had money set aside for an emergency fund. I would probably set aside money in an account to grow so that I didn't rely on working until my dying day to provide for a family. I would probably go to a few more Cubs games. I would definitely pay for school.

If I didn't use the money as a tool to spread the Gospel would be a waste to even go on the game show in the first place.

Friday, July 8, 2011

There's No Catch to Grace

A month or so ago the College Group went to a lower-income neighborhood and took over a laundromat. This was purely a ministry to the community. A chance to show the love of Christ to the people around us. People generously gave the money to pay for the soap, for the fabric softener sheets, the quarters for the machines... this was a chance to show people what being the Church is all about.

We were warned before we went that people would try and abuse our generosity. Not that we weren't willing to wash whatever clothes they brought. We were in it to serve people. What people would abuse was that this was there chance to use as much soap as they could.

One woman in particular was fixed on getting "enough" soap for her clothes. We poured in the proper amount. Then, at her insistence, we poured in another cap full of soap. This wasn't enough though and before we knew it she was pouring half of the bottle into the machine. Before we got to the point of giving her the bottle I was standing next to her and she complained that "I'm going to have to wash these again. You guys aren't putting enough in."

In this woman's mind, there had to be a catch to our generosity. We couldn't be there focused on providing her with clean laundry. We must be there to do a half-way job of doing the laundry. We must be there to cut corners. We must be there to save our soap for later. She would rather put in so much soap that her clothes come out dingy than trust that we were there for her good.

This might seem a little ridiculous. The truth is that we go through life looking for "the catch" to things that seem to good to be true. And we're usually right. A free year worth of Chick-fil-a for being one of the first 100 people in a new store? More like 52 coupons for the #1 meal. Still really generous but at about 20 coupons in, I'm really tired of always eating the #1 meal. The Original Chick-fil-a sandwich is great but I'd like to branch out! (Others somehow get other meals with their coupons but I just don't have that level of charm.)

We look for the "catch" when it comes to the gift that God gives us who trust in Him: grace. We take the good idea that those who love Christ will keep His commandments and we twist it into a catch. We twist it into a need to do things to earn that grace. We make sure that we always go to church (especially on vacation). We make sure that we listen to the right music, we read the right books, we vote the right way. None of these things are wrong... but they become wrong when we're doing it to gain God's approval.

Grace is getting the things that we don't deserve. We don't deserve the Holy Spirit indwelling in us. We don't deserve the blessing of fellowship of other believers. We don't deserve eternal life. These are the the big things. We don't even deserve the small blessings that God gives us. James 1:17 says that every good gift comes from above.

Every good gift comes from God.

And He doesn't come with catches.

He gives gifts out of love. His desired will is for you to enter into relationship with him but He isn't like the kid on the playground that gives things to gain allegiance and then takes it away when he doesn't get what he wants.

So let's stop looking for the "catch" to grace. Let's stop trying to earn it and instead live a life where we are free to serve Christ out of love, not a need for approval. When we live lives seeking approval we end up painting a picture to the people around us that's not much different than the lady who wants more soap.

And that's not a picture that gives people a very good idea of the love of Christ.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Seminary Stress

This could be a sequel to my "Seminary Sanctification" post awhile ago. At that point and time the difficult part of the process was the time leading up to the decision of where to go to grad school. Well, that difficulty has passed. I chose Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. It came down to the fact that it's a good school with good profs. It is a manageable distance from home (GR). And they were willing to take off 18-22 credits off my degree because of classes I took at Moody.

The decision making itself was not that bad. In fact it was a little fun. You'd have to understand how much I love signing up for classes though. I made a habit of signing up my friends for their classes while at Moody. :)

After picking the school, finding a place on-campus to live, picking my classes... the real stress came. It manifested itself in 3 main ways:

1. Money- After paying for only room and board for 3.5 years at Moody, all of a sudden I started caring a lot more about how many credits I was taking when it costs almost $700 a credit...

2. Job- This is related to the money. I have developed a talent for not being very good at the job searching process. I got lucky at Moody when a friend hooked me up with a job on Dish Crew. With the costs as high as they are I'll need a more substantial job than that anyways.

3. Hebrew- Still related to the money issue, I'd like to be able to test out of the first 2 semesters of Hebrew. My problem is that I picked up my book yesterday for the first time since Spring 2010... and I don't remember nearly as much as I thought I would. The test is worth $3500 in credits I wouldn't have to take so I immediately feel the pressure.

All of this struck me as I was trying to fall asleep last night. I don't recommending thinking about such things as a way to fall asleep. I didn't sleep well. I woke up with a headache. I sit with a general sense of uneasiness that I did not have before. "Did I pick the right school?" "Should I even be going to grad school?" "Did I really consider the questions that Kevin DeYoung posed about going to seminary? ( "

Do I have the answers to these questions? No.

I do have two things that bring me comfort in a sea of uncertainty:

1. Proverbs 16:1 (NLT) "We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer." I trust because of all of the comparing I've done and my passion to know God's Word at a deeper level to be able to more capably teach students that Trinity was not a bad choice. I was just talking to a friend about living life planless vs. planned out. The truth is that in both cases, though a plan may provide momentary comfort, there is no telling what the future holds. God, the Ordainer of all things, the One who holds the World in His hands, the Director of all my steps, does know that future. It may very well not turn out the way I thought but I will not turn out differently than God has determined.

2. I'm not afraid to fail. Well, actually I am but if I can set the mentality that Trinity is the right, wise choice and it doesn't work out. If I can't pay for more than one semester... if I do my very best and yet the door still closes, I can trust that God is still working in that to direct my path. That doesn't mean I can be irresponsible with my money but since going to Trinity this semester seems to be the wisest choice, I will trust that it is the right one until it is evident that it is the wrong one.

So, if you think of it, pray that I would not succumb to the stress of the "what ifs" or the things that I cannot control. Pray that I would be wise with the resources that God has given me. Pray that I would find my comfort in God's sovereignty. Pray that I would be brave enough to fail, if that's how God chooses to direct my steps.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Privilege of Ministry

So, this isn't original though. Not that I'm sure there really is much actual original thought out there. This though is more of a reflection. I went to go visit a friend and his family at his church on Sunday and the Pastor's sermon got me thinking about this. I'll edit this and post the link to the sermon when they put it up. It was good. He's British. That's the easiest way to establish immediate credibility with an audience.

I wonder if my Michigan, occasionally mistaken for Canadian by those from the South, accent would establish credibility in the UK?

The passage he was speaking about was Acts 9:32-10:26. It's an insanely long passage. Normally, I think there should be rules about length of passages but he developed it well enough that it was ok.

He started out talking about how Peter was the focus of attention for most of the beginning of Acts and then he kind of disappears while we see Stephen, Phillip and Saul. But now in Acts 9:32, the hero returns and heals some people and then goes and reaches Cornelius with the Gospel. In his very British delivery and description in cinematic terms I started to imagine my favorite show of the 21st century, LOST. There were some weeks that certain characters would disappear but you knew when you saw them again that something good was going to happen. Or you realized that the writers had forgotten about them for awhile.

The pastor had me hook, line and sinker in this story of Peter returning to the story to go out and expand his territory of ministry. Then, he said that wasn't how the story was at all.

Peter wasn't traveling around Judea as part of his expanding celebrity or even greater ministry. He was simply doing and confirming to others to do what had already been done. His raising of the dead girl named Tabatha 9:36 forces you to think of Jesus' raising of the young girl he calls damsel, but more specifically, Talitha in Mark 5:41.

If I'm losing you, hang on for just a bit...

The difference was that Peter raises the girl in the name of Jesus Christ while Jesus raised the girl in His Own Name. Peter goes on to receive a vision telling him to go reach Gentiles. He has to be told 3 times in order to convince him of it. Phillip has already reached out to the Ethiopian at this point. Peter isn't doing anything new. He is simply part of a larger story.

That story is Jesus'.

The ministry is Jesus'.

When Peter tells Cornelius in Acts 10:26 not to bow to him because he's only a man, he's speaking from the experience of someone who has failed enough to know that it isn't his ministry.

We are simply the undeserving tools that Christ has for some reason decided to use to bring people in contact with Him. It's that contact with Him that changes everything, we don't do anything. Anything.



It's so easy to look at success of a ministry and see our own efforts. The truth is that Jesus Christ was the only one to ever heal in His own name. He was the only one to forgive sins in His name. He was the only one to ever save anyone.

In an age where celebrity pastors are valued and megachurches are envied, we need to remember that we are simply men (and women) that at our very best are being used by Christ to do His ministry.

If we ever got a glimpse of what that really means, the sure privilege of it would drive us into introducing people to Christ every chance we could.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Seminary Sanctification

So, I'm in the final stages of choosing where to go to grad school/seminary for the Fall. Yes, yes, I know... it is June 7th. Yes, I know, I probably should have been at this point last December when there were more scholarships available. Yes, that would have given me time to go and look for places to live instead of hoping that there will be on-campus housing available. Yes, I would have had more time to realistically plan myself out financially instead of hoping and praying that the money will be there.

Yes, I know all of these things... but I wouldn't change it.

I know that's much easier to say when you can't change it.

Even if I found a flux capacitor on eBay, I'd still go down this road though.

It's really tempting to treat the process of choosing a grad school like LeBron James' "Decision"... especially when you have a few choices. Believe me, I've been humbled enough by times when I was turned down by people to really appreciate acceptance. Even then, it's so easy to feel like you deserve it. It's so easy to feel like you're something special.

It's so easy to forget God.

In the midst of a situation where it is so easy to think highly of myself and to be narcissistic, it takes something large to move my attention off of myself. That's where all of this stress comes in. That's where the fear comes in. Will I choose the right school? Will I find somewhere to live? Will I be able to build relationships when I get there? Should I just pick a school where there are already people I know living in the area?  How will I pay for this? Did I wait too long to be making a good choice?

I look to my left and I see pride.

I look to my right and I see fear.

If I really open my eyes though... I'll be able to see that God is leading me through this.

God can and will take my mistakes, my lack of forethought, my immaturity and use them to cause me to follow Him closer. All of the unknowns keep me from remaining prideful. The blessings of having the opportunity of a few choices in where to go act as a reminder that God is indeed at work in me. God is working through my pride and through my fear to see Him more clearly.

I'm still not sure where I'll be in the Fall.

I do know, however, Who will be there with me.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Guest post on The Couch: Living with Technology

Hey, this is my blog. I'm not leaving.

I am also not quite so exclusive. Just not ready to take that step yet.

I posted a blog called "Living with Technology" on a blog called The Couch that I'll be occasionally contributing to along with some friends from Moody.

I could post it here but that would defeat the purpose of posting it there.

So, just go check it out.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Michael Scott, Osama and the End of... Some Things.

So, the world is changing.

Michael Scott has left The Office.

Osama Bin Laden has left the world.

I'm about to say goodbye to Moody. (Not quite the same)

The hard thing about change sometimes is that it's not... quite... complete. Take Michael Scott for example. The hardest part for me about watching Steve Carell's final episode of The Office is that I knew that this week's episode was coming. I'm sure it'll be funny. I'm sure it'll keep me interested in watching the show. Even though it won't be the same, this Thursday will prove that The Office can go on without Michael Scott. It might not be as funny but it can and it will go on. Steve Carell was a big part of the show but this proves that he was not the show itself.

Osama Bin Laden is dead. If you're looking for how you should be reacting to his death I can point you to 1000 other blogs. (As always, Kevin DeYoung's is worth reading) The reason Bin Laden has found himself in this blog is that even though his death is a victory in the War on Terror, it is not ultimate victory. He may have been the figurehead of Al Qaeda but he was not Al Qaeda itself. It may be weakened but it will go on. No death of one person will take down that terror organization and the fight will still go on.

I was visiting Moody for the last time before graduation a couple of weeks ago and saw something that caused me to stop in the middle of the sidewalk. The gas station next to Moody, the one that has the suspect looking Subway on the inside of it that has fed many a Moody student on Sunday nights was changing. It had been a Citgo for my entire time at Moody... but was now a BP. Now, other than to people who know something more about gasoline than where to put it in the car, the change really doesn't make that much of a difference. To me it served as a sign that the city of Chicago was surviving, was moving on, was changing without me.

We may not say it out loud but many of us, myself included, hope that our presence in this world is indispensable. We hope that our impact is great enough on those around us that they simply need us to stick around. The fact of the matter is that the show will go on without us. We are not irreplaceable.

Now, you might be asking yourself, "Why are you talking about this? I was sitting here enjoying my bowl of cereal and you're talking about how useless we are!" The reason I'm calling attention to our unimportance is that it is only because of God's grace that He allows us to have an impact in the lives that we do. He has also given us a limited amount of time to make that impact. What will you do with the opportunity that you have been given? Steve Carell spent 7 years on The Office making people laugh. Bin Laden's influence was an evil, negative one but it was one that cannot be overlooked.

I hope that as I leave Moody I can look back and see that I used the opportunity to build relationships with the people around me.

I hope that I can see that had an influence in the lives of others.

And I hope that I remember.... that it is only at His leisure I serve.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rob Bell and the Mirror of Erised- My review of Love Wins

"Yes and no," said Dumbledore quietly.  "It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible." 
-Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone          
Writing a review of Love Wins weeks after it seems to have been reviewed to death might seem pointless. It might even come off as narcissistic. I hope it doesn't. I'm writing this review for three reasons. First, not everyone is taken in by the blogosphere. Not everyone has the time or desire to read reviews or read blogs all day but have stumbled upon this one. Secondly, everyone has a unique voice. Nothing I say here hasn't already been said, but I hope I say it in a slightly unique way though. If you're looking for the most in-depth review, Google "Kevin DeYoung" and you'll find his 20 pager. Finally, maybe you're still unconvinced that Rob Bell is saying what he's saying in Love Wins. I hope that this review spins a new light on the matter for you and that the purpose and message of his book becomes clear.

Before I jump into the book I want to just say a bit about Rob Bell. I don't hate Rob Bell. Some might dispute that but I just claim that I've recognized his trajectory on this issue for awhile now. I've met Rob Bell personally. He wouldn't remember it but we met at a minor league baseball game a couple of years ago. It was immediately evident that he loves his family. After seeing interviews with Bell I believe that he genuinely loves his church and that he desires for people to know Christ.

Desire is not enough though. Love Wins paints a different portrait of the Christian faith than Scripture does. I know that that's a bold statement to make but I'm going to focus on three of the main issues of the book and I hope you'll see where I'm coming from.

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Bell paints a picture of hell in his book as a present reality rather than a separate, future destination. He makes this claim by separating the idea of hell into simply what Jesus had to say on the matter. Bell owes it to the reader to spend more than half a page covering the New Testament references to hell. Yes, he mentions the other uses in Scripture but it is from Jesus' words that he gets his foundation. The word Jesus uses is "Gehenna" and it refers to the burning trash dump. Bell uses the phase to point out that Jesus was talking about a place where things were burned away. Thus, hell is an experience. It is not a pleasant experience but it's the experience we have when we "choose our story over God's."

Yes, Bell is right about Gehenna being the burning trash dump. How did we get the idea of hell out of that then? It's because Bell doesn't paint a large enough picture. Besides ignoring other references to the lake of fire or of judgment, Gehenna  would immediately have brought images to the minds of the people listening to Jesus that are a bit more vivid than an uncomfortable life circumstance. In the Old Testament period, Gehenna was the place where Baal and Molech worshippers came and sacrificed children. In the New Testament, it is referred to in Mark 9:43 as an unquenchable fire. Jesus did not have uncomfortable circumstances in mind when he used this word.

God is love... and He is just.
So, does Rob Bell believe in hell? Yes. Does he believe that you have to stay there? No. He spends a great deal of time explaining that it is God's desire for everyone to be saved. Which is true. It's not all that's true though. It's also true that Romans chapter 1 lays out pretty clearly that we, unless we have been justified by Christ, are a people that naturally suppress the truth of the Gospel. We choose hell. Rob Bell wouldn't disagree with that but he can't imagine that God would not allow people an escape route once we get there. The problem is that we wouldn't choose the escape route, even if there were multiple chances at salvation. We choose our own path. We exchange the truth of God for a lie. We will always choose hell. God sending His grace upon us is the only way we seek after God.

Bell argues that since God wants everyone to go to heaven, if He is as great of a God as we like to say He is, He's going to get what He wants. Bell fails to mention that God also seeks justice. He is holy and He cannot stand sin. His wrath is completely deserved because we are a people of sin. Rather than focusing on the fact that some may never escape His holy wrath, it should leave us speechless that any of us escape it. Bell's downfall is that he doesn't recognize how deeply sinful we are. He might not be doing that intentionally but it's evident in every single page of Love Wins that Bell has a much higher view of man than Scripture does. God is great because He shows mercy to anyone. He's not under any obligation to show mercy to everyone.

"There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
The third problem with Love Wins is that Bell is intent on leaving the door open for people to come to Christ by an avenue other than Christ. He uses the example of Paul referring to Christ being present in the rock that gave Israel water as an example that Christ can manifest himself anywhere around us. Besides missing Paul's point in referring to that rock (that Israel had the presence of God with them but still chose idolatry) Bell takes his point to the extreme. Never coming out directly and saying that people can be believers in Christ without actually knowing about Him directly, he still makes his point about Christians thinking they have the market cornered on Jesus.

I could argue with that point by pointing out that it can't be supported by Scripture but even at a more basic level, it isn't logically possible. One faith system cannot say something completely opposite of another faith system and both of them be true. The law of non-contradiction is the technical term but I think if we're all being truthful with ourselves we know that to be true. Yes, people in other faith systems do commit good deeds. Yes, many of those people are faithful to their convictions. This is well and good but if  they didn't believe that Jesus Christ is  the only way to salvation, if they didn't believe that it is only by His grace that they can be saved, then they believed in something other than the Gospel. They believed a lie.

The Mirror of Erised
I opened this review with a quote from Harry Potter. Besides being a shameless attempt to look well-read, I couldn't believe how well this quote fit this entire situation. I believe Rob Bell is doing his best to love and serve Jesus Christ. I believe that he wants people to know Christ. I believe he wants to free people from the hurt they may have experienced by the church in the past. I also believe that he sees Scripture as he wants to see it, not like it actually is. Yes, his view would solve the hard issue of those who never hear the Gospel. Yes, his view would comfort those who have had loved ones die without knowing Christ. Love Wins does not give us truth though.

Bell paints a picture of a faith that is based entirely on his idea of what love should look like. It doesn't paint a picture of reality, either of Scripture or of humanity. The truth is that hell is a terrible place that each of us has chosen for ourselves unless we put our faith in Christ. And it is eternal (Daniel 12:2, Matthew 25:46). The picture he paints isn't acceptable because it gets the core of the Gospel wrong. And I have to root for truth.

I do not root for hell though. If something good has come out of Rob Bell and Love Wins, it is that it has pushed me to live like I believe hell is a real place. That means being serious about seeing people come to faith in Christ because at the end of all things Christ will win, both with love and with justice.

And I want as many people to be on the winning side as possible. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Loss of Perspective

I can't decide if this is in the series of posts on Civil Discourse or not. We'll say not.

I'm about to start reading Love Wins by Rob Bell soon and I'll have a review done ASAP. There are already a 1000 reviews out there already but I was reminded the not everyone goes around reading reviews of bloggers that they don't know so a review from me could still serve a purpose. This isn't that review even though it's on a related issue. I want to raise a question:

Have we lost the ability to know which issues are essential to the Gospel and which issues are non-essentials?

This issue came to mind when in the midst of all of the reviewing of Love Wins and charges of universalism going on I saw an interesting response from someone. This person is someone I respect and I know loves Christ and serving in His Church. His response to the controversy was to post a link to a blog. This blog came to the conclusion of all of the universalism hubbub that it was a sign of a split in the Evangelical church.... between legalists that cared about attacking anyone different from them and progressives that wanted to love their surrounding communities.

Uh... really?

I can safely say that both my friend and that blogger missed the point of the debate completely. I think I know why they missed it though. The most interesting part of the Martin Bashir/Rob Bell video that went viral last week (YouTube it if you missed it) was that Bell admitted that this book was largely a response or working out a reaction to the way he was raised. I think that my friend and the blogger are doing the same thing.

I think we all do the same thing to an extent.

Many who grew up in the American Christian world can remember what their churches stood against when they were growing up and most of the time it resembled either a Republican platform or petty differences much more than it reflected Scripture. What kind of music you listened to, what translation of the Bible you used, what kind of clothes you wore were the issues that drove the debate for many in the past. Many of us would love to run away from that past and be Christians that are not forcing people to take on our extra-Biblical convictions when they come to Christ.

Augustine probably didn't say this but he's credited with saying: "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love." We're finding out that in the past we quarreled and shut out people over the non-essentials. We aim to correct the problems of the past. The problem that some come to is that they not only correct the problems of the past, they over-correct. They don't want to disagree or debate or call out any position. They basically treat every issue as a "non-essential."

Why is this a problem? It's a problem because what happens when we refuse to stand against false teaching, when we refuse to say that anyone is wrong, we project a Christianity that will not be appealing to anyone outside the church. Why would anyone want to be part of something where two people can say completely opposite things about the core of the Gospel and neither side cares? We think we're showing love but we're actually showing that there's no substance to what we have to offer.

To close, there is one issue left. How then do we determine which issues are essential to the Gospel and which issues are non-essential. How do we keep from overcompensating from a past where every issue was essential to a world where none of them are? I won't aim to frame orthodoxy in the space of a blog but I do think we can look at some conclusions that the reformers came to.

Salvation is by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. Scripture alone is our final authority on what God has to say to us and we live for the glory of God alone

Regardless of where Rob Bell stands on the issue, universalism is much too serious a strike against the core of the Gospel to be considered a non-essential. We should we wary of shifting to a world where we no longer stand for those core truths in the name of unity.

If that's the case, what are we unified about?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cheesy Bumper Stickers and Christian Irony

This is the 2nd in a series of 3 or 4 on Civil Discourse.

Anyone who knows me personally knows my affinity for sarcasm. It was a major shock to me when I studied in the South for a year that sarcasm was not the major mode of speaking for some people. I often use sarcasm to poke fun at things that seem ridiculous but are trying to be taken seriously. I run to it so often that people that don't know me well enough don't even realize that I'm trying to be sarcastic. I was recently referred to as “obnoxiously arrogant” for saying that I didn't like The King's Speech now that it was popular to like it. I was trying to make a point about the people that actually say that sort of thing but instead came off as a jerk. Oops!

I'm not alone in this love of irony, however. You only need to take a look at the popularity of things like The Onion or The Daily Show to recognize how irony has taken a hold of the millennial culture. Everything and everyone is open to ridicule.

Irony sometimes pops up when I don't expect it though. A group of us were visiting a church on the east side of Michigan last weekend and I found myself poking fun at some of the building setup by making jokes about Jesus throwing over the cash register outside of their gift store or cafe because it accepted Visa and MasterCard. I had to stop myself when I realized that if the pastor we were meeting was standing behind me I would have died. Literally.

Well, maybe more figuratively.

It would have been close.

The church in the 21st century has found a similar love for ripping on things with a sarcastic tone and the target is often the church itself. Just how entrenched is this attitude in Christians today? Brett McCracken writes in his book Hipster Christianity: “If you are a Christian of a certain age (let's say 21-50) and you grew up in the Christian church (especially in the eighties or early nineties), you probably love making fun of the evangelical subculture.” McCracken specifically points out that this is a trend in response to the commercialization of the Christian culture, especially as a “Christian version” of every popular area of pop culture hits the shelf of the local Christian bookstore. Recognizing how the consumer mindset turned Christianity into a profit margin has created a jaded generation towards much of the American Church in general.

Need proof? Just take a look at bumper stickers.

I can't tell you how many churches I've been to where the sermon apparently needed to be enhanced by dedicating a lengthy amount of time to making fun of Christian bumper stickers. Are we really helping anyone by making fun of these bumper stickers? Or making fun of chrome fish on cars? Or t-shirts that look like a corporate logo but say something spiritual instead?... or WWJD bracelets?

It's not wrong for us to try and be relevant but I'm really not sure that Jesus would be ok with us openly mocking the factions of Christianity that are less in touch with culture. Yes, the lame way that we often try to catch up with culture 10 years too late should be talked about. We should do our best not to hinder the Gospel with out of date methods. I'm not sure irony is the best venue to address that though. Here's why:

When we openly mock other parts of the Church we are mocking His Bride.

Some of the most mild-mannered of my friends have dropped profanities or taken swings when those that they loved were mocked. Why should be expect Christ to care any less for His Church? Brett McCracken writes that “The chorus of 'we want Jesus but not the Church' represents a trend in Christianity toward what one recent author called 'decorpulation'-- not the cutting off of the head (Jesus) but the cutting off of the body (the church).” We should try and be relevant to our culture but it can't come at the expense of neglecting or abusing the Body of Christ.

We are called to love the things that Jesus loves... and that especially includes His Church.

Even those who are unhip.