Ever get stuck in the mud, wheels spinning? Mud is yesterday’s treasures and worries eroded by time back to the dust from which we came. When our thoughts are drifting back, we fail to be fully present to today, the only day we can change. The Good Old Days weren’t as great as we thought. The bad old days weren’t as bad as we feared because we’re still here. Still living. But are we fully alive?
Every morning the mercies of God are new. Grace for today. It’s not enough to cover our preoccupation with the past. God’s plan is for us to give yesterday to Him and receive grace. Just enough grace for today. Today. Drop everything and embrace what God has for you today. Celebrate the past. Grieve the losses. But live in today. Let God put His Spirit in you, healing, restoring, and beginning a new work called today. Get on with living. So many others need to be set free. Embrace God’s mission of letting your light shine right where you are. In serving others your past will be fully redeemed for their benefit and your healing. Today.
(I’m indebted to Nooma #17 Today) you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tQ82LSSeZ0&feature=youtube_gdata_player
As we watch congress play a game of chicken with our economy, let us pray… The Republicans are passing a plan the Senate Democrats won’t approve so they can blame the crisis on the President. The Democrats are clinging to over-extended programs which appeal to their constituents, so they can accuse Republicans of stealing from the poor to support the rich. All the while, both parties claim the other is playing politics.
We elected them to work politics. To consider all options, follow all leads, then make tough choices that will help all Americans. It won’t do any good to save programs that bankrupt us. It won’t do any good to slash services that feed the economy. It definitely won’t help anyone to default on our debts. No one deal can solve the problems. A series of hard choices lie ahead for everyone. Politics doesn’t have to be a game of appearances. It can be the hard work of serving and leading our nation. Having serious conversations which engage all parties in finding real solutions. Compromising on non-essentials will be necessary to succeed.
I pray the political games will end and the real work of politics will begin before it’s too late.
If you’re a Christian leader you probably heard about Rob Bell before 2 weeks ago. But if you don’t live under a rock you’ve heard of him since then! His new book—Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived created a firestorm when a promotional video was released. It questioned traditional views on hell.
If I had to choose a Facebook category for my relationship with Rob Bell’s ideas, “it’s complicated” would win. I’ve really enjoyed some of his sermons and Nooma videos. He definitely has a pastor’s heart. He’s studied the Bible in the original languages. He gets our culture. He’s not afraid to offend. He’s a gifted communicator. All things I respect. But he’s a whipping boy for conservatives (and some of my friends.) He’s a hero to others (and some of my friends). So if I really liked or disliked something he said or did, I had to think twice to avoid offending someone. He’s a guilty pleasure one day (like brownies at 11:30pm) and big bother the next (like a zit on your chin!)
But he made his boldest move yet with Love Wins. The video was brilliant to create buzz. Last night he frustrated me with a live web event. At midnight I downloaded the book and finished by mid-morning.
Let me begin by saying Rob Bell is not a heretic. His personal views are not totally revealed, but the options presented are consistent with some ancient Christian teachers. Let me also say I can’t embrace all he presents about salvation and the afterlife. But who else could have gotten us all talking about such important issues? The book is clearly not written to debate with people like me. It’s written to engage with people outside of church life. I think it can do this well. It attempts to explain how heaven and hell fit into the good news of Jesus. He starts with the deep reservations many outside the church have with a God who eternally punishes most of humanity. This point can be offensive to Christians, but not to his audience.
He’s as controversial as he can be in the first couple chapters. He messes with our tidy notions of the gospel by showing vastly different metaphors Jesus (and Paul) used. He says a woman wrote Hebrews (not sure this is an actual conviction of his) and that traditional views of the afterlife have been used to oppress the masses through the ages. He calls his gramma’s cross-bridge painting creepy! But eventually he settles into examining the relevant Scriptures. He creatively (somewhat ambiguously) lets his views come through over time. More than ever it’s hard to pin him down at times. As usual, no footnotes. He supports his views only with Scripture references and stories.
Heaven is the fullness of God’s Kingdom on a renewed earth. In an important sense for Bell’s Jesus, heaven is wherever God rules. The goal of salvation is to reunite earth and heaven. Heaven ultimately won’t be another “place” we go, it’s another reality that comes here. This part can be strongly supported by Scripture.
One genius of the book is in the case he makes that salvation, heaven and hell have a lot more to do with this life than we may realize. We should listen to Bell on this. We’ve all known people who’ve made a hell on earth by rejecting God’s vision for life. Many Christians have experienced eternal life as peace on earth now. Often Jesus’ talk of hell is a warning to religious people to change their behavior. It’s surprising that he often says sinners may be in the Kingdom and religious people may not. He spends a lot of time explaining the behaviors and attitudes of people who experience heaven. Rather than implying a magical character change for Christians at death, Jesus implies the importance of letting grace change you now. (a view Nazarenes have always embraced.)
Bell says this change is what would allow us to enjoy heaven (the fullness of the Kingdom). But, bravely for a man in Grand Rapids, he emphasizes free will. It’s our choice. God’s love let’s us choose. Hell is essentially refusing to accept/trust God’s version of our story. We bring destruction on ourselves whenever we reject God’s love & forgiveness. 2 images dominate.
1. Luke 15’s parable of the father with 2 sons shows our options. Finally give up living a faulty story and come home to the party (prodigal son) or stubbornly refuse to enjoy it (elder brother).
2. Revelation 21:25 (describing the heavenly city coming down for God to finally make his dwelling among humanity.) “On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.”
Bell says “And then there are others who ask, if you get another chance after you die, why limit that chance to one-off immediately after death? And so they expand the possibilities, trusting that there will be endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God.
As long as it takes, in other words.” (p.55)
This is a form of universalism, but Bell doesn’t exactly say it’s his view. He rightfully demonstrates that a minority of Christians in every age have believed this way. His motive is evangelism. He spends the rest of the book attempting to make a compelling case for accepting/trusting in God’s story now. Why miss a moment of eternal life? His goal is to reach those for whom one and done eternal punishment is the one barrier to accepting the Christian story. “You don’t have to believe this to be a Christian,” Bell says.
He hasn’t convinced me that this “eventually view” is the most biblical view. But neither would I be upset if this turned out to be true. I don’t want anyone to suffer the torment of hell. I want everyone to experience eternal life. (In the tradition of Wesley, Inclusivism is closer to my view, as in Wesley’s “On Heaven” sermon.) I have concerns that some could put this choice off, not feeling motivated to choose now. But Bell makes clear the destructive consequences of delay.
I reread portions of the book this afternoon and gained a less defensive perspective. I can’t embrace the book fully. But because he rooted this presentation in the Scriptures, demonstrated the centrality of Christ, and has a clearly evangelistic motive I’m glad he wrote this book.
I hope it creates an opportunity for more people to accept/trust God’s version of the story. Even if this “eventually” view is mistaken, once people are walking with Christ in the reality of the Kingdom, he can correct any errors. (Not that we should offer bait and switch if we don’t believe something has validity.)
Doctrine matters. Truth has boundaries. I’m more traditional than Bell. But at least we’re talking about heaven/hell. I hope more people find peace with God. I plan to engage people in conversation about the book. I pray this conversation gets us all in touch with eternal realities (saving/sanctifying grace) surrounding us every moment, offering to transform us in preparation for enjoying heaven forever. The Gospel really is good news and I can’t wait to experience it in fullness! It’s time we celebrated it. Easter’s right around the bend!
So what category do they all fit in? People who entertained me in the 80’s? 2 out of three ain’t bad. People who have recently gone even more insane than ever before? Only 2 verified at this point. Trending topics on Twitter in the last few days? BINGO!
Charlie Sheen has been riding that high normal people sadly feel when they get a brilliant idea at 2:30am. I’ll press “send” and ensure that my life is chaotic for the next three days! But he has named it “Charlie Sheen!” his new drug of choice. It’s “always on surround sound of crazy” and you can almost see in his eyes that he knows he’s gone. The absolute self-worship of what remains of the mind of a rock star actor. Yet, even in his “sheened” state he knows how to grab attention. And the world is more than willing to tune in to watch him self-destruct (read: “winning 2011”). I guess the human spirit has a launch button for when you pass rock bottom but don’t get the memo. I’m sad that such a talented and creative person was seduced into this nightmare (by his own evil desires? Only God knows…) America loves comebacks as much as they love self-destruction. But the original model may not ever be back. This isn’t funny because the trail of devastation is very real. So why do we watch?
Again, it’s tempting to laugh at Gaddafi. When I was too young to understand the issues I actually enjoyed the show as he defied President Reagan with the craziest messages I’d ever heard. It just needed a Gnarls Barkley soundtrack. It reminded me of my neighbor’s t-shirt. A hawk is swooping down on a mouse who is looking up. The caption reads “Last great act of defiance!” Then you notice the mouse is giving him the finger! I imagined the fighter jets decimating his house, which they did. But he actually lived to cruelly dictate for another 24 years! Even came out against Al Qaeda. It’s tempting to laugh until you think about anti-aircraft shells entering the bodies of civilians calling for freedom. Then crying’s not enough.
And Rob Bell is the lone evangelical making it to the top of the twit-heap for something not involving breaking a commandment! But of course we need to burn him at the stake before we know for sure what to charge him with. And I’m sure it’s tempting for the world to laugh at our pettiness. And Harper-One’s (publishers of his new book) accounting team will be the first people in history to actually laugh all the way to the bank. Winning!
So Twitter tells us what we’re looking at for better or for worse. And it seems to be where we reach for the angry button. A lot. Or the shock-value button. Or the crazy button. There are exceptions. My daughter’s sweet friend keeps using it to tell Justin Bieber she loves him and happy birthday and please follow me! And yes you can even follow various versions of “Jesus” in the twitter-sphere. Mostly it’s a social platform to promote ideas, whether those ideas are crazy, crazier, or savvy. Whether leveraged for money, fame, or toppling evil regimes. The choice is yours which messages you send or receive. Kind of like life.
N.T. Wright said that the resurrection had a purpose “to colonize earth with the life of heaven.” I’m wondering if there are better ways for Christ-followers to redeem this space. What are the best ways to fill the Twitter-sphere with the life of heaven? We can follow the trends or create them. But Jesus said he came that they might have life and have it fully. How can we offer life in a world gone crazy? Is it possible to rise to the top of twitter trends with a life-affirming message in-line with the good news? This is territory we have yet to love-bomb. May we overcome crazy winning with abundant life. May we find traction soon!
Grace and Peace
This is my first post of a new blog. The name HD Nazarene, reflects my theological tradition, the Church of the Nazarene. HD refers to High Definition. A life-long study of the Bible has produced a great love for these texts. For me, the more I’ve studied, the more life as a whole makes sense to me. It’s like Scripture has become a lens through which I see the world more clearly, in High Def. So I’m a Nazarene (Christian Protestant denomination in the Wesleyan-Holiness Movement, a branch of Methodism) who’s very happy with the historic views of our church. I’m glad to be a part of the Wesleyan tradition in the classical stream of Christianity. In fact, I’m a Nazarene pastor, leading NewHope Community Church of the Nazarene in Northwest Indiana. I also teach Graduate and Undergraduate Preaching courses and Gen Ed Bible courses at Olivet Nazarene University, a great school near Chicago. I grew up in Iowa City First Church of the Nazarene. I learned to hear God’s voice there. I heard it mostly through holy people, like my mother Lavada Stidham, who loved me. But I learned to hear it deep inside as well. One night while listening to a classic Petra song at a long stoplight, I heard God inviting me to tell others about Jesus for the rest of my life. I eventually said yes. I’m a graduate of Iowa City West High School (’85), Mid America Nazarene University (B.A. Religion ’89), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div. ’94), and McCormick Theological Seminary (A.C.T.S. D.Min. in Preaching ’02) and of life in the real world!
Great, you say, so why another blog? Well, there are a lot controversial voices out there now. I don’t want to be one of them. I want to try to give a view from a more typical Nazarene leader. People like me are not interested in rewriting the beliefs of Christianity (aka the most extreme and recent trends of Emergent), nor in arguing with Reformed people about Nazarene views (aka Concerned Nazarenes). Instead I want to give a view from the road of following Jesus in everyday life. In many ways I feel like I’m still just getting started in following Him. Ever feel like that? In other ways, it’s been long enough to feel like home. Although I’m not above temptation, there’s no going back. My life belongs to him. And I want it to belong to Jesus much more. So part of this is continuing to work out my faith in life and in dialogue.
I’m raising a family with my awesome wife, Ellen, leading a small (but committed and missional) church plant, and teaching students and pastors along the way. I do some writing as well (mid to late September you’ll find a piece I did for Grace and Peace Magazine posted on their site). It has been a blast so far and I think the best days are still in front of me. It may not rock your world, but if you’d like to come along, I’d love to have you.
Welcome to HD Nazarene! The view from here is pretty sweet. The resolution keeps getting better and the surround sound often holds me in perfect peace! I hope I can do it justice. And if you’re interested in sharing your views in a positive and respectful voice, I need your help to experience it more clearly!
Grace and Peace to you!