Monday, February 28, 2011

Discernment...waiting for the book

 Truth is truth. Either something is true or it isn't. Without this basic principle, all discussion of truth is meaningless. (For more on this subject, check out my blog post on the Glee episode "Grilled Cheesus".) With that in mind, I am a little nervous about the announcement for a new book by pastor Rob Bell.

Bell is pastor of a large church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the author of several books, has a popular podcast, and has released a series of teaching videos under the name NOOMA ("a series of short films that explore our world from a perspective of Jesus"). I have used these videos and some of Bell's messages as material for sharing the gospel with young people. I have always found his teaching to an awesome example of using real world examples that people can follow to illustrate the truths of the gospel. I believe the ability to take mundane observations and see Scriptural truth in them is a gift - one I have seen many times in Bell's teaching.

So Rob Bell has announced the upcoming publication of a new book called Love Wins. Here is the promotional video for it:

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

By now some of you know that the announcement has blown up the internet. Tweets from well known pastors such as John Piper and Rick Warrren. An incredible hit rate for a blog post from Justin Taylor (the Gospel Coalition). And a backlash from many saying, "Hey, just minute! Let's wait to see the book."

Yes, let's wait. It's not fair to jump to conclusions based on promotional material and a short video. I believe we can do the cause of Christ real damage by eating our own before we really know what he's saying.

And yes, I acknowledge there's alot in the video that concerns me - but it may just be the hook to get us to read. What concerns me? Well, it seems to imply that we should subject God to our standards of what's just and fair. "How could that God ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted? And how could that ever be good news?" There is an implication that an eternal hell is contrary to the concept of a good God and that the author is prepared to reject it. But he does end by saying we'll learn what the Bible says about God and eternity, so yeah - maybe that's the hook. I hope so.

I hope so because the good news is clearly intended to be responded to. The Scripture is full of references to consequences for rejecting God, and the consequences are severe. Jesus came and provided a way back to God a great cost. Grace is costly and requires a response. All God wants is for us to begin a relationship with him. But we must do that - we must receive the gift in order to have it.

Hell is a tough concept; none of us want to believe it, because it is very unpleasant. But C.S. Lewis summed up why its necessity is logical better than anyone I've ever read:
In the long run, objectors to the doctrine of hell must answer this question: What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins, and at all costs to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty, and offering every miraculous help? But he has done so – in the life and death of his Son. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, that is what he does. (The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis) 
In other words, hell is simply separation from God - exactly what many of us have chosen and are choosing. It just lasts forever.

Is Bell's coming book going to teach universal salvation regardless of choices? It's too early to say and I will not pass judgment until I know for sure. But I know this: the answer will be important. No matter how much I think of the work he's done, his words as a minister of the gospel must be held to the authority of Scripture. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one come to the Father except by me." (John 14:6) I didn't say it, he did. And either he's right or he's wrong - it can't be both.

There is a difference between discernment and judgment. God that we show discernment in teaching of the Word. He demands that we not pass judgment on our brothers and sisters. The former is important because truth is important and teaching sound doctrine is critical to salvation. The latter is important because of the command to love one another. May God grant us all the wisdom to discern the truth. And to love the messenger regardless. I'm praying for Rob Bell. Please pray for me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

lazy weekend

Let's begin with an admission - you were right. All of you friends, family, and co-workers who told me I needed to go to the doctor, you were right. Ok...done. Let's move on.

I am just getting over a pretty good sized case of the crud. Last weekend I began coughing a little, which is not all that unusual. I have allergies and sometimes my sinuses cause some throat irritations. No big deal.

Then, about last Sunday, I made a mistake. A stubborn one. Despite the fact that I was starting to feel a little yucky - and coughing more - I decided to do my Sunday afternoon workout with the usual intensity. When I was done, well - I was done. Energy low...check. Wheezing...check. Heavier cough...check. Chills...check. Fever...oh yeah.

Then, of course, I went to work Monday morning. Felt miserable. But I had some meetings that I felt were too important to miss, so I plugged away. Had several co-workers tell me to go home. So, toward the end of the day, I did....AND WORKED OUT AGAIN! What a stubborn, stubborn fool.

Well, that did it. My sister directed me to go to the doctor the next day, and I did. Found out I had a fever of 101.5. Got a cortisone shot in the, ummmm, hip. (At least that's where the doctor said it was. Yeah.) Got about three prescription strength medicines, including some wonderful cough syrup for bedtime only.

And of course the doctor sent me home to rest. It took about a two hour nap for the fever to break, and it has been getting better since. I got back to work later in the week, and felt ok.

There is a slight cough left, mostly from some sinus drip. But I still need to take it easy. So...

I'm using this as an excuse for a totally lazy weekend. No work on my taxes. No errands. Still need a couple more days of recovery before working out. I am going to venture out for exactly two reasons: to worship God tomorrow morning, and to watch old Fringe episodes with friends tomorrow night. Other than that, I'm glued to my recliner. I haven't spent a weekend like this in a long, long time. And I'm gonna enjoy every second.

See you Monday. Maybe.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bono interview: Grace over karma

U2 is right at the top of any list I would make of favorite musicians. Most of you who know me know that. So I was eager to click the link when my friend Stacy tweeted a link to an interview where he talked about Jesus and what makes him different from any other religious leader. Before you click on the link below, here is an excerpt to pique your interest:
 Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: "I'm the Messiah." I'm saying: "I am God incarnate." And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase.
 As you read, you'll see the interviewer is a skeptic, which makes the statement that much stronger.

Here's the link:

God's grace overcoming the karma of reciprocity...through the cross. Tell it, Bono.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


What do you think about when you think of the future? If you're in high school, it's possibly getting into a good college. If you're in college, maybe it's a good job or starting your own family. Later, maybe a day when you won't have to work anymore, or some peace and quiet after your kids leave the house. Life's difficulties often can point us to consider the far future - life after death. At different phases of my life, most of these have been on my radar.

The latest album from Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors is called Chasing Someday. In the week or so it's been out, I have listened to it several times already. And as the title suggests, the future is interwoven all through the music. It's brilliant. For a more detailed review of the album, check out this blog post from my friend Tommy or this review from a Nashville publication.

My favorite song on the album is Someday. It starts (and ends) with the line, "I've known you for years; you always say that we're just friends." (Btw, I love it when songs end with their opening line.) Later, "Someday you will know that I am the only one for you." You know what? You should listen for yourself:

Awesome song, eh? Wonderful melody and instrumentation. So...

Have you ever carried a torch for someone? Someone who had you squarely in the friend zone? I have...and did for a very long time. That period of my life oozes from this song. Longing for the future...a future that was not destined to be. Chasing someday.

Whatever someday you're chasing, you will feel it somewhere on this album. I know I did. Get it and immerse yourself. And you may get in touch with your real someday...the one God intends for you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy V-Day

Here on Valentine's Day, I think of one of my favorite commercials...which, I know, makes me a little warped:

I'm still laughing every time I see it!

You know, that ad and the other ones like it (the athlete who's getting bad news from his doctor - have you seen that one?) are funny...but also really sad. Why? Because they are just way too true. Deep inside, in places we don't like to talk about, we're that selfish, aren't we? While none of us would ever be that blunt about our selfishness, we all naturally think about how things affect us. The ad strikes a nerve because it's painfully true.

Yes, that's the natural state of the human heart...and that's what Christ came to change. We can't love unselfishly and unconditionally because we are all so needy. God doesn't need anything, so he can. And he can put that in our hearts by meeting all our needs.

So, as evening falls on Valentine's Day, let us all celebrate love. not just romantic love, but real love that comes from the Source. As John wrote:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12)
Yes, happy Valentine's Day to you all!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

One space...period

I hate being wrong.  I don't suppose anyone likes it, but I really hate it.  Unfortunately, I'm wrong alot.  Sometimes it's doing simple arithmetic wrong in from of alot of people.  Or looking forward to a movie that turns out to be a dud.  Or arguing with my dad about an official's call and the replay shows he's right.  But I recently discovered that I've been wrong about something my entire life.  And doing it wrong is a hard habit to break.

To see what it is, check out this link to .

That's right.  Apparently, when I type, I'm supposed to leave one space after a period, not two.  Ok, I guess.  I'm going to try to start doing

The article makes a compelling case that it has always been that way. It (I did it - proud of me?) gives a reason why the two space rule was taught for a while about the time I was in school.  And the...(trying again). And the reason it no longer applies.

Yes, being wrong your whole life stinks, and I'm really annoyed.

This is something I do without thinking. Period, space, space. Period, space, space. It's not easy to change; I'm even having to go back and delete spaces after typing a whole document. But I'm determined to change. Right is right.

And wrong.  Is.  Wrong.

Friday, February 11, 2011

An update from Africa

A few short months ago, a group of children left the dumps of Addis Ababa for boarding school, and amazing opportunity made possible by a ministry called Project 61. When I visited their home last summer, it was like nothing I had ever seen. God spoke to my heart and has been telling me ever since - praying for, loving, and helping such children are at the very heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Well, this was the first year that these children have had the chance to go to the school, so I was thrilled to get an email update on how things were going. God is doing amazing things! Here are a few excerpts along with comments:
It is mid-year for the sponsored kids, and we'd like to share a few updates with you. The kids continue to adjust to their new life at the school, and have settled into their studies and living arrangements. They also are hearing the word of God every single day and are being transformed by His truth!

On January 7th, they celebrated Ethiopian Christmas with a Project 61 team at the boarding school...Each child received a new pair of shoes, a brand new Bible in their own language, socks, underwear, candy, lotion, and a t-shirt. Sponsor gifts were also handed out, and everyone was abuzz with excitement!
I cannot even imagine what that was like! It must have made God smile.

The email went on to describe some challenges, not unsurprising for a group of children who had never been in a structured environment. Some were having discipline problems and there was some danger of them being sent home. But as the new semester begins, check out this report:

Everyone's slates are wiped clean. This reminds me of how merciful our God is, and how even though we don't deserve it, we are made new through his Son. Please pray that this will be an opportunity for these kids to accept the grace of Christ, as well.

And then the message closed with a request:
(P)lease continue to pray for these children. It is the best thing we can do for them! Please pray for their journey back to the boarding school later this week and their transition over the next few weeks. Please pray that, after being in Korah for two weeks, the kids will remain healthy. And most of all, please pray that the kids will come to know Christ.
Will you pray with me for these things?

God is so good. Not only is he blessing these children, but he is blessing us with the opportunity to be part of his work. He is sovereign and can accomplish it any way he wants - but he chooses to include even me. And you. Amazing!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Random thoughts on Super Bowl XLV

As the countdown begins to the return of the world's greatest sport (205 days if you're wondering - or even if you're not), here are a few random thoughts on the 2010-11 grand finale:

  • Isn't this the only place we use those stinkin' Roman numerals? Let's drop it already.
  • Congrats to Green Bay on their 13th NFL championship. Hmmmm, 13 championships...that number sounds familiar.
  • With 111 million viewers, last night constituted the most people ever to watch someone botch the national anthem. Congrats, Christina!
  • I miss football.
  • My high school's football team wears the same uniforms as the world champions. Sadly, these days that's all they have in common.
  • Winning QB Aaron Rodgers came to a relationship with Christ through YoungLife. To this longtime YL leader, that's very cool. (My friend Tommy writes more about this here.)
  • I still miss football.
  • I like the Black Eyed Peas alot. I did not like their performance last night. Well, at least the TV mix was awful; maybe it killed in person. As someone tweeted, even Usher and Slash couldn't save the halftime show.
  • Best part of the night? Having 13 of the most awesome people in the world over to my house for the game. What a fun group!
  • It was a very exciting game, which is important when you know it's your last football for a long time. (Did I mention that already?)
  • To me, the commercial humor quotient was way below Super Bowl standards. But there were bright spots. Like almost everyone else, I consider this to be the best Super Bowl commercial:


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Decisions, decisions

Ever had trouble making a decision?

Well consider Valentine's Day. 8th grade. The continuing saga of Cyrus Kouandjio. What do they have in common? Read on.

As many of you know, the college football world experienced its own version of Christmas morning this past Wednesday. After much anticipation, football programs would in essence get to "open their presents" as thousands of high school seniors signed binding letters of intent to play football at a university. One such senior was Cyrus Kouandjio from Maryland. Would he follow his older brother, who already plays at the University of Alabama? Or would he end up at Auburn or New Mexico? At about 11 AM CST, he made this announcement:

But, as many of you know, he did not follow up with a signature. And at this writing, he is still trying to decide between the Tide and Auburn. He said that he had made a decision, but he had not. I feel for the young man as he ponders such an important call. But the point remains that he will have to decide; failing to decide would be essentially a decision to miss out on college.

Flashback to my 8th grade year. It was early February and time to start arranging a date for the Valentine's dance. If you were going. Well, I was pretty inexperienced at the whole dating concept, but I had a huge crush on Rachel (not her real name, for reasons that will become obvious). Rachel was a cheerleader at our school, a member of our rather small church youth group, and always pretty nice to me. Heck, she had even danced with me on one occasion.

So on a bright sunny, but chilly, February morning, I got up my courage and approached Rachel between Sunday School and church. I never will forget walking up to her as she stood there holding the hand of her little brother. The next few minutes are burned into my brain, and will always be there.

I wasn't very smooth; I was probably downright clumsy. I made some awkward small talk and then stammered out the words: "Rachel, will you go to the dance with me?"

And she said ......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

Yep, that's right...a big fat empty space of nothing. She looked at me for what seemed like for-EV-er. And then she turned, leading her brother by the hand, and headed toward the sanctuary for church. Not yes. Not no. Just silence. Dead silence.

Yeah, that was a little tough to get over. But as I look back, I see basic human nature taking over. The easiest decision is no decision. And yet, it was a decision, wasn't it? Rachel did not go to the dance with me. Her lack of an answer really was an answer - an unmistakeable one.

It's recorded in Matthew 12:30 that Jesus said, "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does gather with me scatters."

This is the same principle, isn't it? If we put off a decision about following Christ, we are really deciding. Like Rachel, our lack of response speaks volumes.

So as we college football fans await the final decision of Cyrus Kouandjio, I leave you with this thought: A decision to live life the way God intended, in relationship with him, is the most important decision any of us will ever make. So let's learn...

  1. ...from Cyrus. That we need to count the cost and make sure we are really committed when we declare ourselves a follower. More damage is done to the Kingdom by half-hearted followers than by atheists. And...
  2. ...from Rachel. That choosing not to choose is really a choice.
Decisions, decisions....

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day? I wish...

As I head off to bed this February 2, I can't help but think: if only this would happen to me in the morning:

Sleeping late. Waking up in Tuscaloosa. Being lazy all day. The most entertaining National Signing Day ever (I may have another post on that soon). Dinner with Macy and Haley. Bama basketball in Coleman Coliseum from the front row.

Yep...let's do it again.  Come on 6 am.  Sing it Sonny & Cher. I wanna be Phil Connors.

Yeah I know, back to work in the morning.  But a man can dream.