Rob Bell, Jesus Wasn’t “Relevant” and His Church Shouldn’t Be Either

Today, I happened upon an article about Rob Bell and his recent remarks to Oprah that the Church will become irrelevant if it continues to cling to the teachings of the Bible. From what I know about this man, he has renounced the doctrine of hell and obviously, doesn’t see the scriptures as authoritative. Without the Bible, I’m not sure Christianity can be called Christianity, but nonetheless, this is nothing new. The church has always been tempted to give way to the culture in the desperate hope that it can influence the culture.

However, this is completely counter to who Jesus Christ was. Jesus wasn’t “relevant” in His day and He never will be today, not in the sense we want. He wasn’t the Savior anyone hoped for or looked for. He didn’t tell anyone what their itching ears wanted to hear.

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:2-3

A “stumbling block” and “rock of offense,” Jesus came to love, yes, but to love and lead people out of their sin. Never once did he amend His message in order to make it more palatable, more popular, or more “relevant.”

The great irony is, that if he had, He would’ve been irrelevant. 

Can you imagine if He had told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and keep on doing as you please.” Or to the tax collector, “Continue in your greed and thievery.” Or to the Pharisee, “Stay in the comfort of your self-righteousness.” These messages would have been well-received, no doubt, but they would have had no impact. If this had been Jesus’s message, the Cross itself would be not only pointless, but laughable and certainly, irrelevant.

A drop of rain which falls in a stream becomes indistinguishable from it. It has no power or influence over the stream, for it is simply carried along by its tide. It is the rock which stands staunchly immovable against the tide that has the power to influence the course of the stream. The more the Church adjusts its views to appease the culture, the more it will look like the culture. And a Church which looks just like the culture will have nothing notable to say to the culture.

Those who suggest we “update” Christianity’s teachings say they are motivated by love, but love without truth, love which points out no wrongs and accepts all is a love which renders itself meaningless and powerless. Jesus loved people enough to tell them they were wrong. He loved them enough to tell them they needed something they couldn’t obtain on their own. And He loved them enough to die to give it to them.

Yes, Mr. Bell, love has, indeed, won, but without a battle, there is nothing to win.  As Tim Keller said, “We’re far worse than we ever imagined, and far more loved than we could ever dream.”  Through the cross, Jesus both showed us our greatest problem and satisfied our greatest need. This is the the Good News which Jesus came to bring and the most relevant message Christians have to offer the world.

Election 2016. I Shall Not Fear.

  This election is drawing to a close and I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go. Perhaps, that is the only thing most of us can agree on. It has certainly been the most tumultuous, divisive, and, might I say, ridiculous election I have seen. It hasn’t been pretty to witness what’s happening to this country on either side of the political spectrum.

Though, I can’t help but feel that this election is not so much doing something to this nation as it is simply revealing what we have done to ourselves. We are merely reaping what we have sown: strife, envy, malice, greed, immorality. 

It can produce in us a deeply rooted anxiety at what might lie ahead.  As a mother of children who are growing up in this mess, I am no stranger to this feeling. It rises up and whispers perniciously that I should be afraid. And sometimes I am.

Yet, we are a people of faith and not a people of fear. We trust in what is unseen. Hopelessness is not befitting the children of God who, every day, are being drawn closer to a living hope, an imperishable inheritance, a better country ( Peter 1:3,4, Hebrews 11-16). Therefore, we must combat our fears with truth. When our hearts whisper despair, we must shout back words of hope, for our hope is great indeed. 

Our God is mighty, sovereign, ruler over all. To him, the nations are like a drop in a bucket. He is transcendent and yet, imminent. Both King and Shepherd, He is sovereign over this mess and with us in this mess. He will not falter or fail to achieve His will. “For he spoke and it came to be; he commanded and it stood firm. The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalms 33:9-11).

Therefore, “it is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Psalms 118:8-9). For we know “the earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it” (Psalms 24:1). “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing” (Isaiah 40:23). 

Whoever rises to “power,” Trump, Clinton, is as nothing before Him. Their heart will be in His hand. Like a stream, He will direct it wherever He pleases (Proverbs 21:1).

So, we “do not put our trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground, on that very day their plans come to nothing” (Psalms 146:3-4).

Nations may be in uproar. Kingdoms may fall (Psalms 46:6), but “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalms 46:1-2). Though corrupt and evil men rise to power, though troubles come our way, though darkness and madness seem to rule the day, we shall not fear.

For “the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love…We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you” (Psalms 33:18-22).

The Mirror of Motherhood

I remember sitting in my living room with my small group leader, my infant son napping peacefully and angelically in his crib. “Believe it or not,” she told me. “Someday it will be hard to love him.” I knew she was right, but it was definitely difficult to imagine at the time. Today, as I spend my days with my now two year old son and my three month old daughter, I can tell you that love is a choice and it’s often a difficult one to make. I can also tell you that the love that is the most difficult to give is the most meaningful to give.

In many ways, parenting is a picture of salvation. Through Jesus, God causes us to live (Ephesians 2:5). He meets us in our greatest need (Romans 5:6). He spoon feeds us when we are weak and helpless. He chooses to love us when we are unlovable and gives us new mercies every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 103:8), He patiently cares for us, disciplines us, teaches us so that we may become mature and complete, lacking no good thing (Hebrews 12:10, James 1:4).

Being a mom is both a joy and a struggle. It is evidence that I am made in the image of God as well as a reminder of how far I have fallen from it. I find such joy in my children. I delight to meet their needs, to care for and protect them daily. I love seeing them grow and learn new things. There are so many wonderful moments, but there are also very hard moments, moments when it is difficult to love.

My son is whiney and selfish. He cries if he doesn’t get his way. He is foolish and short-sighted. He wants  things that will harm him and is angry with me when I won’t let him have them. He doesn’t trust that I know what’s best for him. He is so very helpless and needy. He is just like me.

As adults, we (hopefully) learn not to have fits when we don’t get our way. We learn to cover up our inherent selfishness, but it’s always there. We are not so different from a two year old child.  Growing up can modify our behavior, but only the power of God can really change our hearts.

I’ve found that motherhood is a mirror. I see myself reflected in my children, their great weakness and need, their foolish desires. And when it is hard to choose love and patience over a sharp word or anger, I find myself amazed at how longsuffering God has been with me and convicted of how short I fall of loving as He does.

If motherhood is a mirror, it is a two way mirror. Through my children, God is giving me a picture of what I am like and how greatly He has loved me in Jesus. And through me, though they don’t even know it yet, He is daily giving them a picture of what He is like. I am His messenger,  through word and deed, of love to them. This picture I give them is marred no doubt, but in the day to day sacrificing and serving of motherhood, He is refining and clarifying and sharpening His image  in me so that it might be better reflected to these little ones whose greatest need is to know His perfect, transforming love.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust…from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.”   -Psalm 103:13-14,17

Good Friday Was Bad

The older I get, the more I become aware of life’s fragility, of our precarious position in this world. We are not promised tomorrow, nor even tonight. What’s more, neither are our loved ones. Living is risky and loving is even riskier. Motherhood has made me all too aware of this. From ISIS and the zika virus and just basic human error the endless list of what if‘s could bring a mother to the brink of insanity. I think with each pregnancy, I will confront fear again and again. I can be haunted by the words of Job, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me…”

The question then, is what is the answer to the problem of our fears? Is it a blind, unfounded belief that bad things won’t happen to us? Do we just tell ourselves God wouldn’t do that? I don’t think so because we can plainly see that bad things do happen to people. As scripture tells us, God not only lets them happen, but He ordains all that will come to pass. How then can we know that this God, this sovereign God is really good? How may we look our fears in the face, knowing that they might all come true and yet believe that God is trustworthy?

Whenever I wrestle with the sovereignty of God and the existence of evil and suffering, a profound mystery, God always leads me to the surer, solid ground before the cross. We celebrate today, the day Jesus died, and we call it good, but the truth is, it wasn’t really good. Good Friday was bad. Nothing could have been more disastrous, more terrible for followers of Jesus than the death of the one on whom they had pinned all their hopes.

But it wasn’t even just that it seemed bad at the time. It was really wrong. It was really evil and unjust that Jesus, who had committed no wrong, was crucified at the hands of those who had. Jesus himself, when they came to arrest him, said, “But this is your hour when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53). What a startling statement for the light of the world to make. God purposed that darkness, evil, should reign–but only for a time. For we know that the real injustice wrought by man was, at the same time, mysteriously coinciding with God’s perfect justice against sin and amazing grace to sinners. You see, the cross tells us that God always re-purposes or rather, “supra-purposes” evil and suffering. What man intends for evil, God intends to work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Genesis 50:20, Romans 828).

So my answer to my fears and worries is not some wishful belief that they will not happen, that they could not happen. As they happened to Job, they could happen to me. All that I fear might come to pass and it might be truly bad, truly wrong. Yet if I follow the logic of Romans 8, the logic of the cross, I find the freedom to walk in faith instead of fear. Good Friday was bad, but now it is so very, completely good. Through His resurrection, Christ redeemed His own death and if He can redeem such a great wrong, He can and will redeem all the pains and sorrows of those He suffered so greatly to purchase. If He can redeem the cross, He can redeem anything and if He can redeem anything, we have nothing to fear. That is not trite, vain hope, but plain, solid truth to which our souls can firmly hold.

 

For the Mother Whose Life Feels Small

It has been a while since I’ve written. I’ve wanted to write, but honestly, I just haven’t had much to say and don’t want to write something just to write something. With the New Year, I’ve been reflecting back on where my writing took me in 2015. I don’t regret a single thing I wrote, but it has caused me to sort of re-examine why I write and what I want my writing to achieve. I think the ultimate answer to that question is that I’d like my writing to enlighten or encourage and, in the best of cases, both.

I remember driving back to school the summer before my junior year of college and calling my dad to tell him I didn’t want to study Microbiology anymore. “I want to write,” I told him. It was a little crazy, but I changed my major to Philosophy halfway through school and as I got into my studies, I knew I had made the right decision. I felt so assured of God’s purpose for me. My strengths, my passions, and God’s plan all seemed to be in perfect alignment. And they were, although in a different way than I thought at the time. I saw myself doing what I loved, thinking and writing, and doing it for the glory of God. If I was honest though, I envisioned more than a little glory for myself too.

It’s funny how as we get a little older, we realize that our lives are not going to be quite the movie or biographical material we thought they would be. It can come as a bit of a shock to our individualistic American sensibilities that we are after all, quite common. Growing up, I was a star. I say this not to applaud myself, but more to laugh at myself retrospectively. I was a star athlete, a star student. Man, I had potential. With my perfect GPA and variety of extra-curricular activities, I felt as if I was on an upward path to something really special.

Now sometimes, I feel more like a rocket that failed to launch. My days are quiet, as quiet as days with a one year old can be. Each day is a repetitive cycle of diapers, dishes, and laundry. My greatest recent achievement is teaching my son where his nose is, which he points to and inevitably starts picking. I love being home with him. I treasure the moments of tickle-induced giggles and sleepy bedtime snuggles. I wouldn’t trade any of it. I know I am so incredibly blessed.

But sometimes, my life just feels small, so very insignificant. I look at people who I went to school with, out conquering the world and doing big, important things and think, What am I doing? Putting on real pants if I’m having an especially motivated day, that’s what. “I know what I’m doing is important,” I told my husband the other day, “but it just doesn’t feel very important.”

What I’m learning, really re-learning and then re-re-learning, is that importance cannot be measured in audience members or applause or even in difficulty. The greatest of tasks can be cloaked in the humble and ordinary. Purpose is not always tangible and it’s often delayed in fulfillment. The one who sows the seed waters bare ground for days before he sees any reason to. And then it is many years until that seedling becomes a great tree. So it is, I think, with being a parent of little ones.

My husband and I met with our pastor today to get some advice about starting to discipline. On the way home, I was thinking about the end goal, the vision of the godly man I hope my son will grow to be. I was struck by what a great task the Lord has given us and how very important it is, but that that importance is only felt in light of this far-off vision. What this world needs most apart from Jesus Himself is men and women who are like Him. And so it needs fathers and mothers who do the mundane task of watering and nurturing our children like the tiny plants they are. That is my task, my great, great task which for the moment, feels so very, very small.

So for now, I’ll teach my son where his ears and feet are. I’ll make sure he has a clean diaper and keeps his fingers out of outlets. I will do these menial tasks to meet his basic needs, to love him. But someday…someday, I will teach him greater things. I will teach him to love what is good and to hate what is evil, to cling to what is honorable and right and true. I will point him to Jesus, to life. And someday, I pray, he will be like a tree, planted by the stream which is Christ (Jeremiah 17:7), bearing much fruit and offering shade to the weary. I hope that day comes and that then he will know what I am learning: the most important things in life are often what make us the least self-important and the greatest life is the life which is given away.

 

Planned Parenthood, Abortion, and The God of Self

planned-parenthood

“An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked. There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good. Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not reject what is wrong.” Psalm 36:1-4

A new video was released today, a new video of stomach-turning callousness and cruelty. As I watched it, I wept. I don’t really want to argue about what is and isn’t legal because, frankly, none of this should be legal at all. I don’t even really want to argue pro-life vs. pro-choice. I want to get to the heart of the issue. What is the real issue behind abortion? I don’t think it’s merely a question of when personhood begins or whose rights trump whose. No, it is deeper than that. The real issue is that mankind is in reckless rebellion against God and we refuse to bend our knee to Him and the authority of His word.

In our day, we are obsessed with our rights. We take them to be ultimate. Personal autonomy is our God. The right to whatever makes us happy is our moral absolute. The issue of abortion then, is that we throw off any claims of authority that God makes over our lives. He tells us life in the womb is sacred (Psalm 139:14-16)? We tell Him it is nothing but unwanted tissue. He tells us we are guilty of murder? We spit in His face and tell Him it is our right to choose. To hell with Him and His law. You see, at the heart of abortion is that we refuse to worship God and instead, insist on worshiping ourselves.

The first problem here is a logical one. I find it interesting how adamantly we insist on our right to disobey God when, without Him, we cannot possibly have any rights at all. The American claim to liberty and autonomy was founded on the basis that “we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights.” But if we reject the authority of the Creator, how can we still lay claim to the rights He gives us? And if there is no Creator, how can we have rights at all? The truth is that if there is no God, we have no rights. There is no truth. There is no justice. There is only “get what you can, while you can because tomorrow, you will be gone.” We can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t have the rights given to us by God without also submitting them to the authority of God.

The second problem is more serious. No matter how much we insist that we are our own God and authority, it doesn’t change the fact that we are not. God is God. We can pretend that is not true, but it always will be. We can say with the wicked man, “‘God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees” (Psalm 10:11), but nevertheless, God has not forgotten and He does see. No matter how happily we make thrones for ourselves and dispense judgments that suit our own desires, we will one day stand before His throne and face His judgment. And that is a day we should all fear.

“All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations–a people who continually provoke me to my face” (Isaiah 65:2-3).

“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you..But when we continued to sin against [you], you were angry. How then can we be saved?” (Isaiah 64:4-5).

We are an obstinate people.  We believe that we can live wantonly and willfully free ourselves from the authority of the Almighty God, but we are “pursuing our own imaginations.” There is no God besides Him and one way or another, we will all bow before Him (Romans 14:11). We can choose to do it now or forever in an eternity of judgment and wrath. We all are guilty. There is no one who is righteous before God (Romans 3:10). No, not one.

But despite our rejection of Him, God made a way for us to be saved through Jesus. The wonder of the Gospel is that God refuses to let us refuse Him. He pursues us even as we run from Him. He holds out His hands to those who spit in His face. Even now, He is holding out his hands to the woman who mourns what she did to her child. He is holding out His hands to the victim of sexual abuse. He is holding out His hands to the doctor aborting babies and even those selling them. He is holding out His hands to all of us. How then can we be saved? “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you–even Jesus” (Acts 3:19).

If You’re Pro-Choice, the Selling of Baby Body Parts Shouldn’t Bother You

When I write, I generally try to put my emotions aside. I strive to be calm and reasoned, but right now, I am filled with many emotions. I am angry. I am disgusted. I am filled with sorrow. This is not to say that I have abandoned reason or reality, in fact, I think it is because I am a rational human being with a conscience that I am, and all of us should be, disgusted. We should be disgusted because, as this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jIoOY2n9kw showed, babies are being murdered and their body parts are being sold for money.

We all know, despite the fanciest arguments and talk of bodily autonomy, that babies in the womb are just as much babies as babies outside the womb. We know it. It just isn’t very convenient to know it. We don’t like that we know it. It’s easier not to know it so we pretend that we don’t until a video like this one comes along and reminds us of the truth we’ve suppressed: that abortion is murder and the people who do it are callous, ruthless people who will do just about anything for money, such as dismembering babies and selling the leftovers to the highest bidder.

How have we gotten to a place in our nation where it is a cardinal sin to even disagree with the practice of homosexuality, but the murder of babies is business as usual? How is it a legal offense to decline someone a cake, but the slaughter of unborn children is a legally protected practice? Are our consciences so calloused? Yes, they are. We should be outraged, but we’re not. Why? Because if you sit in the pig pen long enough, what you thought smelled like crap eventually starts to smell like roses.

I’m not even going to try to go through all the pro-life arguments. I’m not going to try to reason because reason and truth and moral sensitivity have clearly been thrown out the window. As the scripture says, we have traded the truth of God for a lie and so, our thinking has become futile and our foolish hearts have been darkened (Romans 1:21). Reason and truth don’t do much for a darkened heart and a seared conscience.

But I will make one point. If you’re pro-choice, this video of this lady nonchalantly talking about the strategic dismemberment and selling of baby bodies, shouldn’t upset you. The logic of abortion treats unborn children as products to be rejected and disposed of at will. This lady is doing nothing more than living that out. Why not make a little extra cash, right? If, however, the bartering of murdered babies does make you, say, a little uncomfortable, you might want to rethink being pro-choice. Because if it’s not a baby, if it’s just tissue, you shouldn’t be repulsed at all. What’s left of your conscience shouldn’t be troubled. You shouldn’t really care. Unless it was a bald eagle egg. Then this would be truly horrific. Because those are endangered and precious and legally protected. But unborn children? Eh, they’re a dime a dozen. Or $30-$100 a head as this lady obviously knows so well. After all, they probably paid for her salad.