Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Final Countdown

Cue the stereotypical 80s synthesizers. The Final Countdown is upon us. I am marrying my best friend in 100 days. There are a mixture of feelings whirling about in my being. Time has seemed to pass by so quickly since that day when I surprised her as she left work and asked her to marry me. Yet, at other times, it has seemed to pass by so slowly, as if the day would never get here.

Despite the random speeds that time seems to take, I am feeling rather excited, yet also nervous. It is a somewhat similar feeling that I had on November 4th of last year (the day I proposed). I was very excited for this major step I was going to take, and yet I was also nervous. Looking back, those nerves don't seem to make sense. They still don't seem to make sense. I was very confident that she would say yes, just as I am very confident she will say "I do" on October 30th.

Perhaps it's the fact that the road I am taking is a sudden and different one. All the changes in my life have seemed to come gradually. Yet, on that day when my best friend and I get new titles - "husband and wife" - I realize that I will wake up the following morning a married man. It will no longer be about me, but about "us."

You can point to the fact that we have been dating since 2004 as an indicator that we know each other quite well. Yet, I feel that being a husband will be such a different adventure for me. Others have crossed this bridge before and have made it, but the nerves are still there when I think about how close the day has gotten.

I know, however, that if I follow the perfect example of love, that I'm going to be all right. More importantly, that "we" are going to be all right. I'm prepared to love Alexandra the way Jesus loved His bride - the Church. I'm prepared to speak to her in kindness and truth the way Jesus spoke with kindness and truth to His flock. I'm prepared to share my gifts with her with the same charity Jesus showed to those around Him. I'm prepared to sacrifice everything so that she could gain everything, just as Jesus gave it all so that Church can be all that it is and all that it can be.

I am definitely in love. And one hundred days from now, that love will be manifest in a new covenant that I will share with the one that I love.

Let the Final Countdown begin...

Monday, July 4, 2011

One Founder on Independence Day

After the signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote the following letter to Abigail and the children.

Happy Fourth!

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not. (The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, Harvard University Press, 1975, 142).

Friday, July 1, 2011

I'm 24...for a Moment

I thought I'd pay homage to Five for Fighting's "100 Years" in the title to this post. When I think about that song, I think about how quickly life goes by.

Today is my 24th birthday, and that number is not highlighted in that hit single. Nor is it highlighted in Kenny Chesney's "Don't Blink." But when I think about the age I'm at, I kind of realize that in the grand scheme of things, "24" is not an exciting age. It is not a milestone of any kind. In fact, if you look at the upcoming milestones in my life - 25, 30, 40, etc. - they are just numerical proofs that time flies by, and that none of us are getting any younger.

I look at the changes in my life since I turned 23, and I realized that I am a blessed man. Let's rewind, shall we?

I was hired to finally teach full-time with benefits at a private, Catholic school to teach Social Studies (my kind of shindig). In November, I proposed to my high school sweetheart. In January, I found out that I was going to be an uncle. A little later on, I found out that she was going to be a girl. Sprinkle in a lot of other events, and this could equate to a very eventful year. However, like all things, these events have quickly become a part of my past.

This upcoming year, I WILL be married. This upcoming year, I WILL be an uncle. This upcoming year, I WILL lose hair (all right, this last was happening already, anyways). In the grand scheme of things, I am a limited creature. And although I am heading into my "prime", I guess, I realize more what those limitations are.

While it could be depressing to some that they are getting older (after all, I'm going to be a quarter-century old next year!), I see it as a reminder that I have been given these years as a gift.

I never am really all that excited for my birthdays. I am not really a "party" kind of guy. I prefer staying in, watching a ball game, or hanging with friends in a very relaxed setting. But the other day, a spark of excitement emerged within me.

Yes, I'm 24. And immediately, the only positive thing I can think of about "24" is that it was one of my favorite TV shows back when it was on the air. I'm more excited because it reminds me more about who God is, rather than who I am. In the long run, my story doesn't mean much if I don't pay attention to History...His Story.

On this day, my 24th birthday, I am fortunate that I try not keep the focus on myself. I find that I only get in emotional or spiritual trouble when I do focus on Yours Truly. My focus is on the One who made this all possible. My focus is on the One who led me home. My focus is on the One who has guided my steps since that time. My focus is on the One who lets me back in whenever I fall away.

My birthday wish this year? I wish that everyone would feel that way at one point in their lives; that everyone would establish that relationship. It is that relationship that has formed the standard in my other relationships. If everyone held that as the standard (and this includes many Christians who do not), this world would surely see the change that it desperately needs.

"There's never a wish, better than this...when you've only got a hundred years to live."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Archbishop Dolan

The link below is to a great piece that aired a couple months ago about New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan. Although I may not agree with him on a minor issue or two, I think his personality is what the Catholic Church in the United States needs.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Reverend Billy Graham on Pope John Paul II

"When future historians look back on the most influential personalities of the 20th century, the name of Pope John Paul II will unquestionably loom large in their accounts. Few individuals have had a greater impact - not just religiously but socially and morally - on the modern world. He will stand as the most influential moral voice of our time.

"I first became acquainted with the name of this remarkable man when I visited Poland in 1978. At the time, he was known as Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, and he had invited me to have tea with him and to preach in his home church, St. Anne's in Krakow. As it turned out, however, we did not meet; he had been called away to Rome to participate in the election of a new pope following the unexpected death of John Paul I. To everyone's surprise - including his, I'm sure - Karol Wojtyla was elected pope, taking the name of John Paul II. When my plane from Poland landed in New York, after his election had been announced, I was interviewed by the media. They had scores of questions to ask because they knew I had just finished a preaching series in Poland that included several Catholic cathedrals. I remember one incident on Good Morning America when David Hartman asked me how to pronounce his name. When I told him, he slapped his knee and said that he might be the only reporter in New York who knew how to pronounce the name.

"After that, John Paul welcomed me several times at the Vatican, and although we came from different backgrounds, we developed a warm friendship with each other. His courageous stands for morality and faith in an age of rampant secularism, as well as his compassion for all who suffer and his strong commitment to social justice, won him the respect not only of his fellow Roman Catholics but of anyone concerned about the moral and spiritual confusion of our time. His call for young people to renounce the false paths that our modern world beckons and to commit their lives to Christ and His will struck a responsive chord in the hearts of millions.

"As the world faces the challenges of the new millennium, may Christ's call to repentance and faith be heard with ever greater clarity by each of us."

- The Reverend Billy Graham

Friday, April 22, 2011

Turning Nothing into Something Beautiful

Hello all!

Today is Good Friday, and even though I know why it is called "Good Friday," it is still hard for me to call the day by its name without cringing a bit. Just think about it:

Was it good that Jesus was betrayed for money?
Was it good that Jesus was mocked and ridiculed?
Was it good that Jesus was abandoned?
Was it good that Jesus was whipped, flogged, and scourged?
Was it good that a notorious criminal (Barabbas) was preferred by the people over the Lord of Lords?
Was it good that the same Jesus who was greeted with palms and with shouts of "Hosanna" would hear "Crucify him" by those same people less than a week later?
Was it good that Jesus was convicted to die like a criminal?
Was it good that Jesus was forced to carry a heavy wooden cross through most of Jerusalem and up a mountain?
Was it good that Jesus' hands were nailed to that same cross?
How about his feet?
Was it good that Jesus was still being mocked even while hanging on that cross?
Was it good that Jesus was suffering all this while his Mother watched?
Was it good that Jesus was hanging next to two men who deserved their punishment?
Was it good that Jesus felt forsaken?
Was it good that Jesus' last thought before passing was for us, His church, rather than on His own suffering?
Was it good that Jesus, even after death, had his side pierced by a Roman soldier?

The answer to all of these questions is "yes." Although most of those things sound horrible, for us - it was a Good Friday. Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice. He turned Himself in for a punishment that all of us deserve. The only person in the History of Earth who did not deserve all of this is the only person in the History of Earth who endured all of this. It is a "Good" Friday because it is a pre-cursor to the most important day of all: Easter. This weekend, we first reflect on the sacrifice Jesus made. And then, the conquest he made over death and sin. Through Him, we can make that conquest.

I've heard a lot about people taking today off because today is supposedly a day where you are supposed to "do nothing." That is not the case. We are not to do needless work, but there is something we must do. We must reflect. We must pray. We must reconvert ourselves to Jesus.

As St. Augustine once said: "He once was fixed to the Cross in every part of His body for you, may He now be fixed in every part of your soul." He also said: "I meditate upon the price of my redemption."

Let us meditate today. Rather than doing nothing, let us turn that day of "doing nothing" into a day where we do something beautiful.

Love you all.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Wisdom of Jason Boyett

Earlier today, my good friend Steven Cates posted a tweet that linked to the following article by blogger Jason Boyett. I have never heard of this gentlemen until Steve posted. Boyett instantly captivated me with his insight into yet another demagogic denominational attack. I believe that this is a fellow "crusader" (I know probably not a good term in a blog about Christians) in the fight for Christian ecumenism, a cause that I hold dear to my heart. The article can be found at the link posted below, or you can just scroll down and read. Enjoy!


Thoughts About Rob Bell, John Piper, and Justin Taylor - O Me of Little Faith

I'm not sure what Rob Bell was doing on Saturday, but I wonder how long it took for him to realize that he had blown up the Internet. At least, the Christian twitterverse and blogosphere.

Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids and the author of Velvet Elvis and Sex God, has a fascinating new book releasing in March -- at least, the title is fascinating. It's called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

From the publisher's copy about the book:

In Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith--the afterlife--arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic--eternal life doesn't start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.

Sound controversial? It is. It's supposed to be. And we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but on Saturday influential blogger Justin Taylor (who's also in the publishing business as vice president of editorial at Crossway) decided to judge the book based on its cover description. Citing that and a short video provided by the publisher, Taylor outed Bell as a universalist.

While he admitted that he hadn't read the book yet (!), he felt OK making this statement about Bell:

It is unspeakably sad when those called to be ministers of the Word distort the gospel and deceive the people of God with false doctrine.

And this one, too, in an explanatory follow-up statement:

If Bell is teaching that hell is empty and that you can reject Jesus and still be saved, he is opposing the gospel and the biblical teaching of Jesus Christ. You may think that's judgmental to say that; I think it's being faithful. I would encourage a careful study of 1 Timothy to see what Paul says about false teaching and teachers.

As of this morning, Taylor's post has more than 20,000 Facebook recommendations and 1,000 comments. But that's not all. Highly respected author and pastor John Piper read Taylor's post and recommended it to his Twitter followers with a link and this simple line:

Farewell, Rob Bell.

Piper's tweet got retweeted and passed along and pretty soon, #robbell was in Saturday's top 10 trending topics, which is usually reserved for Middle East unrest, dead celebrities, and Justin Biebers.

{Audible sigh.}


1. This is why people hate us. There is no meaner, more hateful person on Earth than a Christian who suspects you have gotten your theology wrong. Labeling that mean-ness as "being faithful" to the Gospel doesn't make it less hateful. While Taylor's post was fairly calm, the response to it by his readers was not. Bell got skewered in the comments, on twitter, and in other blog posts.

2. Really, John Piper? Your Reformed followers can be obnoxious at times, but I've always hoped you were above that. Sometimes you say things that make me roll my eyes. Most of the time, though, you're way more gracious than your fans. But "farewell, Rob Bell"? What a disappointingly smug, arrogant tweet. It's worth pointing out what Scot McKnight told Christianity Today about the matter: "The way to disagree with someone of Rob Bell's influence is not a tweet of dismissal but a private letter or a phone call. Flippancy should have no part in judging a Christian leader's theology, character or status."

3. Unlike some, I'm not going to fault Taylor for pre-judging Bell's book. I've ranted about books I haven't read, too. In fact, publishers' copy and marketing materials are designed exactly for that purpose: they are supposed to give you an idea of a book's contents so that you'll be intrigued and buy it.

4. I kind of wish Justin Taylor had gotten a copy of my latest book and called me names in a blog post.

5. But here's where Taylor's and Piper's responses annoy and frustrate me: They are so absolutely certain that they are right. Because Rob Bell seems to be indicating that hell might not be a place of eternal suffering -- or might not exist at all in the way traditional Christianity thinks of it -- then they say he is flat-out wrong. Dangerously wrong. False-doctrine wrong. Opposing-the-Gospel wrong. But you know what? The Bible is really squishy on the subject of hell. The everlasting-torment hell of Dante and Jonathan Edwards doesn't exist at all in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus talks about hell a lot, but sometimes in ways that a reasonable person could interpret metaphorically (like when he calls it Gehenna, after a real-life burning trash heap outside Jerusalem). And for centuries, some Christians have tried to make the case that, when Paul says Christ died for all, he really meant it. Not some. All.

No, universalism isn't an orthodox Christian position. Hell is. But are we not willing to admit that, maybe, over the years, we could have gotten something wrong? Is it so wrong to maybe hope that everyone gets saved? That hell doesn't exist? Because I totally hope that to be the case.

The truth is this: In order to be an everyone-get-saved Universalist, as Taylor claims Bell to be, you have to elevate some biblical passages and ignore (or explain away) others. Because there are definitely some passages that seem to be about eternal punishment in hell.


In order to be a predestination-style, God-saves-the-elect reformed Christian -- like Taylor and Piper -- you have to elevate some biblical passages and ignore (or explain away) others. Because there are definitely some passages that seem to contradict predestination.


In order to be a free-will Arminian Christian, you have to elevate some biblical passages and ignore (or explain away) others. Because there are definitely some passages that seem to confirm predestination.

See where this is going?

In order to be an Evangelical Christian...

In order to be a Roman Catholic Christian...

In order to be a Pentecostal Christian, a cessationist, an End-Times date-setter, a female pastor, a pacifist Christian...

Reading and understanding the Bible involves lots and lots of interpretation. Not just in light of the world and culture around us, but in reference to other parts of the Bible. At best, there are things that are unclear and not easily harmonized from Genesis to Revelation. At worst, there are things that seem to be downright contradictory. That's why I have doubts. That's why theology can be so controversial.

And that's also why theology is best done with humility and a recognition that certainty is very hard to come by. When we become so certain that our theology is ironclad and right, that's when we become smug, arrogant, and dismissive of people who disagree with us. That's when we do things like tweet that a thoughtful, hopeful, influential Christian like Rob Bell is dead to us.

Because that's what "Farewell, Rob Bell" means, isn't it? You're dead to me. What I believe is right. If you oppose it, then I'm done with you.

At least that's how I read it. Please tell me I'm wrong.