November 2007


I went to see Rob Bell last night as he made a short stop in Louisville for the gods are not angry tour.  This was the first time I had heard Rob speak.  Let me just say up front that not many speakers can engage an audience like he can.  He is a master storyteller with an articulate, almost dramatic delivery that’s very personal and relational.  That being said, there were many disturbing aspects in terms of the content of his message.

He began by walking rather nonchalantly onto the stage and started by telling a funny, fictional story about a cave man and cave woman which led into a detailed survey of ancient cultures and their gods.  His aim was to show that from the beginning of time, mankind has always been dependent on forces outside of themselves, forces they cannot control.  And the impulse within us is to get these forces on our side, to please these forces (or gods) so that they would bless us with things like rain, fertility, good crops, etc.  In order to get these forces on our side, human beings would set aside or offer up some kind of sacrifice to these gods on a high place or altar.  But the altar brought with it a “primal anxiety” because humans would never know where they stood with the gods.  So the sacrifices became greater and greater even to the point of offering up one’s own children to appease the gods.

It is here that Rob made a bridge into the Bible as he spoke of Abraham in Genesis 12 and 22.  This story showed how the Bible is not detached from culture and human history.  As he spoke of Abraham’s calling and near sacrifice of his son, Rob correctly explained how the God of the Bible did not need a sacrifice because he himself provided the sacrifice.  He himself would bring peace with man by reaching down to him. 

Rob continued on into the book of Hebrews highlighting Jesus’ words, “Someone greater than the temple is here.”  I loved how he continued this sacrifice motif in the Scriptures with Jesus being the climax of the story.  Likewise, I appreciated his desire to show that Jesus came to take away our guilt and shame and bring peace and reconciliation.  He fleshed out this truth with personal stories that showed the beauty of God’s love for those who are suffering in silence with burdens they can hardly bear.  In fact, he concluded his message in dramatic flair as he repeated parts of these stories and left us with one last statement, “This God is not angry.  This God is love.”  That’s how it ended.

As I got up from my seat, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth.  In many ways, Rob told a great story with an exciting introduction and memorable conclusion.  But as a storyteller, he left out the central problem of the story.  In a word, he left out sin.  He never even mentioned the word.  How can one speak of Christ’s sacrifice for us without speaking about our sin problem?  His whole tour is called the gods are not angry.  That statement is true for the believer.  God is no longer angry at us because he has done something for us in Christ.  Christ has taken God’s anger and wrath against us on the cross and bore the punishment we deserve for our sin.  Our response is to repent and believe.  Rob’s response was to simple realize what God has done to bring peace and reconciliation for everyone.  Rob’s message to the world is that this God is not angry with you.  He loves you now because of Jesus.  A half-gospel at best.

The crazy thing is that Rob mentioned a personal encounter with an unbelieving man who asked him the name of his tour.  Rob, replied, “It’s called, the gods are not angry.”  The man said, “They are with me!”  The man simply said what is true according to the Scriptures.  Romans 1:8-19 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” 

All people know there is a God, and they know deep down that this God is angry with them.  Our job is to remind them of this truth and then show them the love of God through his Son Jesus Christ.  Because this God, our God, was willing to offer his Son as a sacrifice to die in our place on the cross.  And the cross only makes sense if sin is real.

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1.  The Lightlings by R.C. Sproullig04_book_3d_web1.jpg   **PERSONAL FAVORITE**

Not everyone is afraid of the dark.  Some are afraid of the light.  This is a great allegorical tale that weaves together the biblical story of redemption in a memorable way that will fascinate children of all ages.  It also includes a discussion guide for parents with Scripture references in the back to get at the deeper meaning of the story.  I highly recommend it.

2. One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham45be228348a022e024d61110_aa240_l2.jpg

Through his death and resurrection, the baby born that night in Bethlehem had become Lord of all.  This is the real meaning of Christmas, the joy and glory of it!  As a little boy is caught alone in a snowstorm, he finds safety in an old cabin owned by a woman who cares for his badly swollen ankle as she tells him the Christmas story.  In this unique version of the Christmas story, Ruth Graham tells the whole story behind the story starting with creation and concluding with the resurrection.

3. The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs61na4hp66bl_bo2204203200_pisitb-dp-500-arrowtopright45-64_ou01_aa240_sh20_1.jpg

After nurturing tiny seedlings into fragrant Christmas trees, a farmer begins selling them–all except the biggest one, which the farmer’s wife sets aside for her own family. But when a penniless young girl sets her sights on that magnificent tree, the farmer’s wife learns the true meaning of Christmas. After 10 years, this endearing parable has touched children everywhere! Recommended for ages 3 to 7.

4. The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg615wvkb2sml_bo2204203200_pisitb-dp-500-arrowtopright45-64_ou01_aa240_sh20_1.jpg

This is a timeless tale that will help families celebrate the mystery and the meaning of Christmas by looking at not just the candy cane, but the cross.  Here’s one snippet: But Mr. Sonneman, what are the stripes for?  Lucy asked.  The man’s eyes grew sad.  The prophet Isaiah said, ‘By his stripes we are healed.’  Before he died on the cross, Jesus was whipped.  He bled terribly.  The red reminds us of his suffering and his blood.

5. Christmas Carols for a Kid’s Heart by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Joni Erickson Tada15813462631.jpg

No other time of the year is filled with as much excitement and gleeful expectancy as Christmas, and no one seems to enjoy the season more than children.  Christmas is a time of making memories.  And musical memories are one of the most precious gifts we can give the children we love.  Along with many stories from the Bible, there are devotionals as well as a CD of songs included.

______________________________________

How about you?  Would you add any others to the list?

Can church be done virtually?  Whether you agree or disagree, it’s happening.  C. Michael Patton observes:

Many churches are beginning to hold services online. While the majority of churches now post the MP3’s of their sermons online, others are taking virtual prayer requests, and some are actually holding online services. How? Some open up virtual chatrooms where the sermon is streamed through a live feed. In these rooms, congregation members can chat with one another about the sermon, give prayer requests, and even be lead by an “online pastor” (a new pastoral position that many churches are now hiring for!).

Even more intriguing are those churches who are renting out space on the popular virtual reality animated program called “Second Life.”  Lifechurch.tv, rated the most technologically innovative church in America, has seized what they believe to be an opportunity. They have purchased land and built a church on Life-Space. While many eyebrows are raised by traditional church goers, LifeChurch believes this to be an opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ in a unique way that is semper reformanda with technology.

Here’s a sampling of some screen shots:

So, the question remains.  Can people really do church on-line?  Patton asks “online-churches” to consider the following questions:

1. If Church is about real relationships, can real relationships be created in such an environment?

2. If Church involves real accountability, can real accountability be sustained online?

(To see all 20 some questions, go here)

(HT: Parchment and Pen)

rob_bell1.jpgThis Thursday, Rob Bell is making a short stop in Louisville, Kentucky, as he continues the gods are not angry tour.  I plan on going to the event with my wife and some good friends of ours.

Some of you have never heard of Rob Bell.  But you will soon. 

In 1999, he, his wife Kristen, and a group of friends started Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan because they wanted to create a community where God could be experienced in a non-traditional way. They didn’t know how to do it or what would happen. They just knew that they wanted to be part of a community where people loved coming, questions were welcomed and love abounded. The church grew from zero to 10,000 in less than two years and Rob Bell has become a phenomenon.

Along with being a pastor, Rob Bell is also an author.  His most well-known book is Velvet Elvis which makes some excellent points but also raises some big questions.  Since reading the book I’ve had some serious concerns over Bell’s handling of Scripture and some of his theological conclusions.  And I’m definitely not alone in my critique.

All that to say, I’m looking forward to hearing him speak this Thursday as the description of the tour sounds intriguing:

Part anthropology, part history, part deconstruction – this is new material that Rob hasn’t taught before, exploring how humans invented religion to make themselves feel better.

Look for a later post this week as I reflect on the event.

cross_cradle1.gifChristmas is coming.  That’s obvious even to my little girls who are counting down the days.  But less obvious is why Christ came.  No doubt, we could give the simple Sunday School answer that He came to die on the cross to save us from our sins.  And that would certainly be true as Matthew 1:21 says, “and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  But is this the ultimate reason why Christ came?  Is this the ultimate reason for the birth of Christ in the cradle and the death of Christ on the cross?

There are many reasons why Christ came.  We could think of them as “gospel gifts” to us.  Gifts such as our justification, redemption, and adoption.  These are precious gifts to us and we delight in them.  But just as it’s easy for a child to delight in a Christmas gift and forget the Giver of that gift, we can do the same with God.  We can embrace the gifts of God without embracing God Himself.

When Christ came as a baby in the cradle he fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah had written about him many years before.  Matthew 1:23 is a direct quote from Isaiah 7:14 which says, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).”  God with us.  That little phrase is loaded with meaning as it points us to the ultimate reason why Christ came.  It shows us that the incarnation of Christ was intended to bring us into community with God. 

This truth becomes more clear in Christ’s death on the cross.  Ephesians 2:13 says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”  That’s amazing.  We were brought near (to God!) by the blood of Christ.  The cross brought into community with God.  Perhaps the clearest statement in the Bible regarding this truth is found in 1 Peter 3:18 which says, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”

So, what is the ultimate reason why Christ came?  Answer: To bring us into community with God so that we would treasure God Himself.  John Piper says,

This is the greatest thing Christ died for.  This is the greatest good in the good news.  Why is that?  Because the gospel is the good news that at the cost of his Son’s life, God has done everything necessary to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and ever-increasingly happy–namely, himself.   

Ultimately, the coming of Christ is to bring us into community with God.  The greatest gift of all is not the gifts of the gospel but the Giver of the gospel.  From the cradle to the cross (and finally at the consummation) the ultimate reason for Christ’s coming is the everlasting community we’ll have with our great God. 

images14.jpgCheck out this post by Al Mohler as he reminds us, “while others celebrate “Turkey Day” and ponder poultry, direct your thoughts to the God of Heaven, by whose hand we have been brought near and given more than we can even remember.”

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Get away from your computer (me included) and spend some good time with your family, friends, and neighbors.  We’ll see ya next week!

55-21.jpgFor the past couple days I’ve posted a few times on how God will “never let go” when it seems like all hope has gone.  In this powerful message by Louie Giglio, we see that the cross is the only anchor for our souls when all around our lives are falling apart. 

WARNING: This isn’t a message to make you “feel good” and receive all the answers to why we suffer.  It’s a message about broken people living in a broken world with a Savior that says, “Take heart, I have overcome the world.”  I can’t emphasize it enough, please watch this message.  It may change your life.

* Go here and scroll down to the message called “The Anchor of Hope”

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