Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rob Bell: To Hell, or Not To Hell...That is the Question.

The other day, I viewed a video trailer for Rob Bell’s new book; “Love Wins” (see the trailer at the bottom of this post). In the video, Rob shares with the viewer his struggle with the idea that a loving God would actually “send people to hell for all eternity?” In the book, he suggests that a God who would allow people to go to hell is not a great God. "Love Wins" is his attempt to set the story straight about Heaven, Hell, and man's eternal destination. Unfortunately, while Rob's take on God and Hell may cause many folks to breathe a sigh of relief, it presents a doctrine that not only blurs the lines of biblical truth, but erases them completely. So, with all the “hoopla” going on over this controversial book, I want to share an earlier blog entry of mine in which I try to shed some light on God, his view of sin, and why some people will indeed have to enter this terrible place known as Hell. Here's the post.

Before I begin let me make it clear that I realize I’m certainly no theologian, nor do I care to be. I may not have a “Dr.” decorating the front of my name plate, but amazingly…..I can read the bible for myself! God has given us His Holy Spirit to “bring us into all truth” and that’s good enough for me. I realize that the following post is most likely riddled with gaping holes, but I do feel it is a good opening to what can be a very complex issue. So, if you dare, read on! Hopefully, you will find it of some benefit! The following is an excerpt from an article written by Dr. John H. Gerstner entitled “Does God Love the Sinner and Hate Only His Sin?” “Repent or Perish” forces people to ponder seriously the popular slogan, “God hates the sin and loves the sinner.” Is a necessary repentance consistent with “God loves the sinner?” If God loves the sinner while he is alive, it is strange that God sends him to hell as soon as he dies. God loves the sinner to death? Loves him to everlasting torment? There is something wrong here. Either God loves the sinner and will not send him into the furnace of His eternal wrath; or He sends him into His eternal wrath and does not love him. Either “you are going to hell unless” because God hates you, as you are. Or, God loves you and “you are going to hell unless” is false. Dr. Gerstner goes on to say, “God has no complacent love for the sinner at all. He has a perfect hatred of him”. If what the good doctor says is indeed true, it would seem we would need to blot John 3:16 from the scriptures. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” The word clearly states that God “so loved the world”. Notice it does not say He “so loved the nice people”, or “the religious people”, or even “the God fearing people”. No, it says “the world”. A world chock full of mean, ugly, selfish, sin ridden people. A world that for the most part, didn’t give nor does it now give a rip about God or His son. Yet even so, our gracious God sent His most precious gift to “the world” to save it. Why? Because He “so loved” it. If God truly “hates” people, then why not just do away with us? Don’t send your son. Send a few angels down and torch the place! Why waste your time trying to save what you hate? Yet, we know that is not the case. God loves people, all people. We also know that it doesn’t take a genius to see that the whole “God hates you and wants to smash your dirty sinner face” is just not biblical. All one needs to do is look to Jesus and his treatment of “the lost”. Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father”. I’m going to offer an analogy that is far from perfect, but might possibly help to put this whole idea of God’s punishment of sin into perspective. As I understand, American policy dictates that when planes are hijacked with the intent to use them as a weapon of destruction, the president will call upon fighter jets to take the planes down. Such was the case during the 911 tragedy. After coming to grips with the enormity of the situation, President Bush knew he had to act to ensure the safety of innocent civilians. This was certainly no easy decision to make. Yes, these hijacked planes had to be stopped, but what about the innocent people on board the planes? To destroy the plane was certainly a decision to end the lives of many passengers. Unfortunately, the people could not be separated from the plane. The destiny of the plane and the people where inseparably intertwined. Though the president was terribly grieved at having to make such a decision, he knew the plane could not be allowed to continue on possibly endangering even more innocent people. By the way, in the case of the 911 tragedy, the jets were spared their morbid duty due to some very heroic civilians on the plane. As I said, it is a flawed analogy, but it does possibly provide a glimpse of the dilemma faced by God.in dealing with our sin problem. How? Let me explain. As you already know, you and I are born sinners. No fun, but it’s reality. Unfortunately, this goes far beyond just our thoughts and actions. Sin is literally a part of the very fabric of our being even down to the very DNA that is the blueprint of who we are. Trying to separate us from sin would be like trying to separate light from the sun. Humanly, it is an impossible task. Again, sin isn’t just something we do or think, but rather it is an integral part of who and what we are. In short, it is a part of every part of our being, and it’s not easily dealt with. As a matter of fact, nothing short of a miracle could ever do the job. Now we all know the bible teaches us that God hates sin. That is clearly seen throughout the scriptures. Yet, we also see how much He loves mankind. So much in fact, that He indeed sent His only son to free us from sin and its power over our lives. Receiving pardon for one’s sin is a gift. The bible tells us to call on the name of the Lord that we might be saved. I’m not going to get into a huge discussion here on how that whole process takes place due to the various thoughts on the subject. Still, I think most would have to agree that if you want to be saved, you can be, but it is only through Jesus that sin can be forgiven and its power broken. The flip side of that is the fact that you are free to refuse God’s free gift of forgiveness and salvation. I know you’ve probably seen or heard the saying “Know Jesus. Know peace. No Jesus. No peace”. This is true, but may I add to that line of thinking, “No Jesus. No forgiveness, salvation, or separation from sin. “Know Jesus. Know forgiveness, salvation, and separation from sin!” As I stated earlier, the problem of sin can only be rectified through a miracle. The good news is that God has provided that miracle through the great sacrifice of His only begotten son. A decision to refuse that gift is a decision to keep one’s sin and experience the full wrath of God against sin. You see, God has made it clear “No sin shall enter in to Heaven”. Yet, if a person refuses God’s cure for sin (Jesus), that person’s fate is intertwined with that of sin. Sin will be done away with and unfortunately we are one with sin. Are you starting to see the problem? Just like the president could do nothing to separate those passengers from the hijacked plane, so also God can do nothing to separate a person from sin if he or she does not desire to be seperated. The result: death, judgment, and eternal damnation. Why? Is it that God hates these people? Of course not! We know he loves people. The bible says He himself knit us together in our mother’s womb. But, sin must be dealt with and as long as a person is inseparably intertwined with sin, he or she will face the same fate as the sin that clings to their being. God wants “all” to be saved, but he has given us a freedom to choose or refuse His love, grace, and provision. Bottom line: God hates sin and must deal with it, but unfortunately that same fate will include the souls of all that refuse to be separated from their sins. With that said, there is one thought that has always troubled me. It is the idea that a person is doomed to an eternity in Hell. Not just 10, 100, or even 1,000 years, but eternity. For years I have considered the punishment to far exceed the crime. I mean can’t God just at some point say “okay, they get it!” It just seems that “eternal” punishment seems a bit much for 100 years or less of sin. Why would a loving God deem it necessary to leave these souls in such a place “forever”? Again, we have to understand the nature of sin in mankind. Remember, sin isn’t just an act, thought, or a series of bad decisions. It is a part of every part of our being. Once a person enters eternity, the window of opportunity to receive pardon from God through Jesus is shut forever. Is it that God gives up and washes His hands of these “dirty sinners”? No! Unfortunately, these souls have moved beyond their ability to receive pardon. I will offer a very inadequate illustration, but it may help. If a person is diagnosed with a disease, it is important to act quickly and seek out treatment for the disease as soon as possible. Most doctors would agree that in most cases “catching” a disease early in its progression is usually very beneficial in terms of experiencing a full recovery. Such is the case with many types of cancer. To ignore the disease and pretend it’s not there is to doom oneself to a sure death. At some point in the disease process, you will pass the point of no return. It is at this point that no amount of medicine can help. The disease has taken over and the cure is without benefit to the patient. When a person enters eternity, they pass the point of no return. They have entered a realm where sin cannot be “cured”. If “no sin” can enter into Heaven, a person is left with only one destination to spend eternity. That of course being Hell. Sin is of this world and its cure must also be received in this world. That’s why Jesus entered this life as a man and was sacrificed in this life as a man. Sin had to be dealt with in “this life” because it is “this life” in which sin came into being due to man’s rebellion. It is a product of those who dwell in this world and can only be “cured” while in this world. So, does God have a mean streak and seek revenge against those who refuse Him? Not at all, rather He mourns the loss of even one soul to Hell. He has done all He can possibly do to separate the human soul from sin. It is left to us to receive or refuse His cure for sin through His son Jesus. Again, you can check out the video just below this post. If you have trouble, just check it out on "You Tube".
video

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter: A Time for Clean Toilets

Before you read this, you should know that I AM NOT talking about every church out there. I am only speaking of those that use the celebration of Easter for their own selfish purposes. If your church isn't one of those that participate in such practices, you should not be offended.

Hey everyone, it's EASTER and you know what that means? All our "heathen" friends and family will once again awaken from their yearlong "stay the heck away from church" sabbatical to tank up on a heaping load of good ole Americanized religion. But fear not, the churches are ready! Yes sir the good news is that many churches are more than ready to make the most of every "opportunity", and nothing spells "opportunity" like an American holiday.

With that, I'd like to share an excerpt from an interview with the Senior Pastor (you know like it talks about in the bible) of ZOE Christian Fellowship in California. In this interview, the good pastor shares with us his church's "strategy" to win the lost….to church.

"On Sunday morning nothing compares to Easter service," he said. "We prepare for it. We think strategically about how to prepare for it. We go to great lengths to do that. We recruit more ushers, we hire a person to clean the restrooms every 30 minutes, we use more greeters to greet people as they arrive, and we put ads in the newspaper to invite people out to our Easter play.

"We do email blasts, mass mailings and tell the congregation to invite people," he said. "We go out into the malls and the community to invite people. We have special presentations: a large mass choir, a big drama presentation." Smith said the church uses members as actors in the drama presentations, and they are encouraged to invite family and friends out to see the production. Those involved include small kids, high schools students and adults.

"As a church we do what we call a comeback program, because we want them to have a reason to return. We tell them about events that are coming up. That's a unique marketing opportunity for us. It's a major opportunity."

Okay…so let me get this straight. You do the following to prepare for Easter:

  • You think "strategically" about how to get people to attend the show
  • You "recruit" extra folks to help with the show
  • You hire an outsider to clean your toilets (guess he'll miss the show)
  • Advertise the show
  • Email, mass mail, and invite people to your building for the show
  • Create a "production" for people to see (that's the show)
  • You tell them about upcoming "events"
  • And finally, call the whole thing a "unique marketing opportunity".

So my dear pastor guy, that's Easter? There for a minute, I thought we might be talking about a concert or maybe a Broadway show.

Is that your advice on how we should "prepare" to celebrate the sacrifice and victorious resurrection of the Lord of the universe?

Don't get me wrong, I love a good clean toilet and all, but honestly, that's your selling point? That's actually part of your "comeback program"? Geesh!

By the way, who or what do you want them to "come back" to, because I didn't hear one word about Jesus.

Now I realize this poor pastor guy and his "flock" are only doing what they believe to be right. Still, let's be honest here shall we? For Zoe Christian Fellowship, it seems obvious (at least to me) that Easter has become more about growing their corporation and less about souls and a Savior.

Corporation you say? Sure, you know a business. I mean that's what it sounds like to me. Sorry, but if you don't want people to assume it's a corporation then stop using business terms. Words convey meaning and much of what I read sounded more like a business plan than the gospel.

Disagree? Well, if you can find anything about creating a "unique marketing opportunity" in the bible, please let me know. Besides, the good pastor admits himself, this "major opportunity" is "for us".

I realize not all churches are involved in such shenanigans, but honestly many are especially during times of perceived "opportunity". Just this week in my own hometown, I've seen countless church marquees advertising "awesome" egg hunts, and special "activities" for the kiddies. You can be sure that behind every one of those signs is a church staff working hard to make their Easter seem….more attractive than the other guys. Why? Because, they want more……well you know.

By the way, if it's not about numbers then why do institutions such as the Southern Baptist Convention put out an annual listing of churches ranked according to the number of "baptisms" they've achieved and other "important" data? If you say it is to celebrate, you are obviously quite naïve.

Honestly, I wish these places would just come clean and put on their signs, "We want you to come because huge numbers make us feel successful". Of course, some might need to say, "We want your money, so come here and we'll make your kids giggle!"

Again, disagree if you so desire, but you know that to some degree I am speaking the truth.

Now before I drop my hefty basket of throwing stones, let me say this. My decision to part ways with these buildings some call churches does not in any way guarantee that my stay home version of Easter will be any more spiritually significant or worshipful. In the end, it is up to each individual to intentionally celebrate the goodness of our Lord. The decision to ignore him can take place from the couch just as easily as it can the pew. So there, I threw a rock at myself.

Still, I can safely say that I don't foresee having to use a "marketing strategy" to coerce my children into attending our family bible study at the dining room table. The cinnamon rolls do that!

The very idea that God's holy church feels the need to resort to such tactics is a sad indication of just how disconnected we really are from the truths presented in scripture. I suppose it's no longer enough to just share Jesus. No, now we must "seal the deal" with fancy programs and hyped up jargon that only works to confuse the world even more about the one who died and resurrected for a lost world.

Heck, if I were a lost guy I might begin thinking this Jesus fellow must have problems if churches have to work so hard to sell him.

So with that I'll end this blessed post. Have a great Easter and for those of you lucky enough, enjoy those clean toilets!


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sit Down, Shut Up, and Drink Your Milk!

I recently read the following statement on a church website:

“At Galilean church no one ever graduates from Sunday School.”

Really? No one?

I mean, can you imagine using that same line of thinking with the public school system?

“At __________ School no one ever graduates.

WHAT? Break out the pitchforks and torches! Can you imagine such a thing? There would be an uproar like you wouldn’t believe! Not only would parents be enraged, but I have to think kids would be less than “enthused” about attending such a fine institution.

With that, I would love to ask Galilean Church this question: If no one has graduated. Who is teaching your Sunday school classes?

You see, there’s one big difference between a student and a graduate. Students are still under the “tutelage” of a teacher. Graduates move on to become the teacher. They no longer need the classroom.

So, if no one ever graduates, who teaches?

Yes, I can hear it now, “Ken, we are all lifelong learners. No one has arrived.” Yeah, I know all that, but if I’m sitting in some class burning time listening to someone “teach”, I’d like to think they are qualified and actually know what they’re talking about. Not only that, but I’d also like to think that at some point I could complete my own “learning” and…move on.

If no one gets to graduate, what’s the point? How does anyone else ever become a teacher?

Well the truth is, despite the claims of our friends at Galilean Church, today’s modern “churches” do indeed have “graduates”. Although, one might need to question their…qualifications.

So who exactly could be considered a “graduate” at “church”? Sunday school teachers? Deacons? Elders? Surely the pastor guy is a graduate! If these folks do indeed represent the “graduates”, how did they achieve such a grand thing? What rite of passage did they complete to arrive at such an esteemed position?
Well, I’ve been out of the establishment for a while, but if my memory serves me right I think it goes as follows:

To graduate to the position of pastor, many prepare by attending some type of Bible College (you know, like it talks about in the bible…?). But, the real qualification for pastor “graduation” is….getting hired!

Yep, if you really want to graduate to the position of pastor dude, all you really need is to be hired by some “church” that thinks you have what it takes. You know, like you have a decent resume, you preach a good sermon, you seem godly by the way you talk, that kind of stuff. At that point, you’re a pastor! See, wasn’t graduation easy!

By the way, many say they were “called”. Newsflash: We all are called.

When it comes to elders or deacons, in most cases meeting the requirements for graduation is generally just a matter of getting appointed or being voted on. So, if you are liked, well respected, or in some instances just have lots of money, you too can graduate to the position of elder, or deacon. Rarely will job description be based on the bible, but rather on your church’s bylaws or covenant. The good news is that after you gain “graduate power” you can work to have it changed if you don’t particularly like it.

Now the requirements for graduation to the position of Sunday school teacher are quite varied. In some “churches” it may involve a vote, being appointed, or just a matter of volunteering (those are the real saints…no sarcasm at all!). Yet overwhelmingly, it has been my joyous experience to observe these folks being “guilted” through the graduation line! That means that most likely one of the above mentioned graduates will come to some poor victim…I mean valued member and badger them to the point that they finally cave and agree to “graduate”. Persuasive arguments such as “You’d be perfect”, or “We really need you”, or my favorite “God wants to use you” can change a student to a full-fledged graduate in no time!

Yes, God's path to graduation looks far different than our own.

Still within the "church", that only accounts for a very small percentage of the congregation at a “church”. What about the rest of the folks? Well here’s the good news, most of you will never graduate!

Yes, apparently our dear Galilean Church from above had it at least partially right after all. No, everyone else is expected to “listen” and glean from the more qualified folks that have actually “graduated”. The good news is some people might possibly get to graduate at some point, but that will be for your fellow students and of course the graduates to decide.

So, you just get comfy on that pew or chair, because you’re probably going to be there for a while!

Now, I know I’m being a major smart butt, BUT in a lot of ways you know that what I’ve written about this whole silly process is basically true. The real problem with this political mess is this: It’s not in the bible, nor does it remotely represent God’s heart for His kids.

What does the bible say? I’m glad you asked!

Hebrews puts it this way. “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.”

Nowhere in the bible does God convey that He expects ANY of His kids to sit on a pew for 60 years or more getting spoon fed baby food. What He does challenge us to do is grow up and “move on”!

Along that same line, Paul states in the following passages God’s desire for us to become mature (that means graduate):

Ephesians 4:13
until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:15
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Colossians 1:28
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.

There is a season in every believer’s life that milk is necessary, but at some point we all need to push away the bottle, grab a fork and knife, and dig in to the solid stuff! God wants each one of His kids to “become mature” in the faith and eventually “graduate”. Again, that does not mean we ever stop learning, but surely we would all agree that at some point those who have been “discipled” must become the disciple makers. Otherwise, it would seem the charge of our Lord to “make disciples of all nations” was given to us in vain!

With that, I’ll end on this (If you are a “churchy” person you probably won’t like this part).

The truth is many of our “graduate” leaders do not really expect or want you to graduate. Why? Because if you did, they’d be out of a job. I know that sounds tough, but it’s true. Most of the people who give me heck about the things I write are “clergy”. Why? Well, I’d say it is likely because I threaten their security with such talk. The danger is a few of you might listen and who knows what that could lead to!

I KNOW this kind of talk will offend many “graduates”, but if you’ll really get honest with yourself, you know it’s true. As a “graduate”, I loved being looked at as “the guy”. It was a real “pride stroker” having others rely on me. It gives you a wonderful sense of self importance. The problem is if everyone’s “relying” on us, when do they ever learn to rely on Jesus? I’m not saying that most of our leaders don’t love or care for the people, but at the end of the day “most” enjoy being “the graduate” and having others see them as such.

Still others worry that such talk might empower rebellion and upset the “God ordained” hierarchy and chain of authority that exists within our churches. If people started growing up in the faith, what would our “churches” begin to look like? Before long, people might actually begin taking responsibility for their own relationship with Christ. Wouldn’t everything change?

Yes, hopefully everything would indeed change and my guess is we’d probably look quite different than we do now. Who knows, we might even start looking like...

The church

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ken, I Really Wish You’d Just Stop! Okay, I Think I Will!

The following blog post is most likely full of grammatical errors. Feel free to ignore them.


 

Leaving the establishment is tough in so many ways. All of the sudden, you are no longer a part of the "in crowd". Most people assume you are either "backslidden", hurt, or just plain off your rocker! You hear comments such as, "He used to be such a godly man", and "He obviously just doesn't understand God's word". Ah the joy!

Well, it's been about 16 months since I physically left organized religion (you might call it "church") and I have to say overall, I'm so glad I left. I say physically because honestly, my heart had checked out years prior to my body's decision to walk away. The truth is it has been a bumpy road, very good, but very bumpy. Of course, I should confess the bumps I endured were generally of my own creation.

Truly, I do not miss anything about the "services", or "sermons", and I especially don't miss all the standing up and sitting down (which I never understood). Most of that stuff was just traditional man contrived nonsense and for me traditional is just another word for boring! I did enjoy the people and those rare moments when someone would dare to be transparent, but I still have that for the most part, so overall I'm satisfied.

As I stated above, it's hard on your pride to find out you are no longer as "loved" and respected by many who used to sing your praises. Of course in reality, having you pride slammed is good thing. Sadly, my pride loved it when people patted me on the back and shared what a "blessing" I was to them. That's especially true when you've enjoyed some degree of true notoriety (at least the good kind). Truly, if you can sing, or do "big stuff" for Jesus, you're often exalted by your fellow "church" members and trust me it feels sooooo good! Yes, affirmation is indeed addictive, but unfortunately it can also be quite destructive to the prideful soul (that'd be me), and in that…lies the problem.

How does one go about defending very unpopular decisions without allowing pride to dominate the "discussion"? Heck, everyone wants to be right…right? How do you explain that you no longer believe in an ideology that most would consider a hill worth dying on? Even more challenging, how do you do it without pointing out the folly of believing in that ideology? It can get really….complicated.

So, after many, many bouts of trying defend myself and my beliefs, I have decided you simply stop.

Stop what you ask? Stop defending my position, beliefs, and convictions, and stop trying to convince others I might actually…have a leg to stand on. Why? Because it is POINTLESS!

Not only is it pointless, it destroys your own ability to simply enjoy where you are with Jesus…and that…is stinko!

Instead of growing closer to the Lord in the rich, fertile soil of freedom he has planted me in, I wither with concerns and the emotional baggage of dealing with those who are fat and happy in the system I so despise. Now, if you shutter at my use of such a strong word, I am sorry. Still, that is the reality of how I feel. Honestly, in my heart of hearts I believe that the modern system of religion many (not all)Christians call "church" is absolutely detrimental to the spiritual health and well-being of a child of God. If you disagree, I really just feel sorry for you. I realize that sounds demeaning, but I don't mean it to. I know so many of you love this thing you call "church", but in most cases(not all)I see it as a no more than a sad business that tries desperately to emulate life only to fail and eventually bring pain and destruction to those who dare embrace it. I realize I may be wrong in my thinking, but as of yet the Lord has not shown me differently despite my pleas (not fleas). By the way, if you feel I am way off base or even a little screwed up and He's told you so, ask Him to tell me (honestly, I'd love that). Who knows, you may have a better connection than I do.

On that same note, you might be surprised to know that I have submitted to the Lord my will regarding "church". I can tell you now that if the Lord told me to go back to the institutional church, I would go….with hesitation of course, but I would go. Of course, I am sincerely hoping against that.

So with that, I shall stop. If you share something with me on Face Book about how I need to change, or repent, or let go of my…whatever (which doesn't exist), I shall simply have to ignore it. Why? Because I just cannot continue to fight a battle that has no end and no winner. If you are a Christian, you and I are family and I simply will not continue to fight, argue, banter (whatever) with my family.

So, disagree with me, pray for my backslidden self, love me, support me or just ignore me. Whatever option you choose, I shall honor it. In the end, I need to go on with Jesus.

I will continue to write my blogs and post them. If they bless you and help you, I am thankful. If they tick you off and disgust you…..I am thankful.

So, as a former pastor dude I once served with used to say, peace on your heads! Feel free to comment…or not. Either way, I'm good!

Ken