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.

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.

 

The Gospel for Bruce Jenner

A few days ago I wrote a post about Bruce Jenner. My main point was that I don’t think this man is a hero. It has received over 2.5 million views and I have received some 4,000+ comments, many of them accusing me of being a hateful, judgmental, idiot. I am only human and I think we are all judgmental at times, but I really don’t think anything I said was hateful. I’m not sure when disagreeing with someone became the same as hating them, but there you have it. Nonetheless, it has compelled me to write a follow up post.

I have two goals when I write. First and foremost, I aim to exalt Jesus Christ, to show Him as the supreme treasure that He is, and secondly, to shed the light of the truth of His Gospel on issues here on earth. I have been accused of not showing God’s love to Bruce so that is what I want to do now in the best way I know how. I want to share the Gospel of Christ for Bruce Jenner, the Gospel for all of us. I will speak it all. I will not add or subtract. I will not be ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). So, Bruce, this is God’s message of hope and love to you.

Bruce, you are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). You are God’s idea. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, woven together in your mother’s womb by the very hands of God (Psalm 139:14-15) You have intrinsic value and worth not based on your self, but on your Creator.

But Bruce, you have a problem. You and I both have a problem. Because we have sinned, because we have broken God’s law and marred his image, we stand guilty before a holy God. None of us is righteous (Romans 3:10). We all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). This sin has infected our souls, our bodies, even the very ground we walk on. It has so skewed our perception of reality that we cannot see the truth of God (Romans 1:21-23) nor can we see who we were meant to be. That is why we struggle to find our identity.That is why we look for it in all the wrong places, in money, in sex, in materialism, in fame, and even in altering your body to become a woman. We think these things will liberate us, but the truth is, they only keep us in bondage.

Not only that, but because God is holy and just, His wrath is aimed at us (Romans 1:18). Because of our sin, we are by nature objects of this wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Bruce, some people will try to tell you differently. Some will say that God is love and therefore, He just wants you to be happy and do what pleases you. Well, God is love, but if we don’t first see His righteous wrath, we will never understand or receive His amazing grace. The Gospel is meaningless and powerless to save without this truth. If we didn’t have a sin problem Christ would not have needed to die. But He did die. Why? Because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Yet, God has shown His love for you, Bruce, by dying in your place while you were still in sin, while you were still rebelling against Him (Romans 5:8) in order that He might give you eternal life (Romans 3:21, Romans 6:23, John 3:16) and set you free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:18). You see, His love does not affirm us in our sin but liberates us from it.

Bruce, Jesus died as a sacrifice for your sins. He rose from the dead in victory over them.  He stands now, arms open, calling you to Himself so that He might freely pour out His grace and love upon you. All you need do is go to Him, but one thing you must know. You cannot get near the mercy of God without also getting near His holiness. You cannot come to the cross on your own terms. You cannot have him as Savior without also yielding to Him as Lord. Christ died to put your sin to death so you must put it to death too (Romans 6:5-14).

No, I don’t think you are a hero, but Jesus is. Bruce, are you weary? He will give you rest. Are you confused? He will give you truth. Are you struggling to find hope and meaning? Jesus will give it to you. He will give you life. He will tell you who you were made to be.  You were made to be His. Listen to Him. Answer His call.

Weary, burdened wanderer, there is rest for thee at the feet of Jesus in His love, so free. Listen to His message, words of life, forever blest. Oh, thou heavy-laden, come to me, come and rest

There is freedom, taste and see. Hear the call, come to me. Run into His arms of grace. Your burden carried, He will take, yeah yeah, He will take

Bring Him all thy burdens, all thy guilt and sin. Mercy’s door is open, rise up and enter in

There is freedom, taste and see. Hear the call, come to me. Run into His arms of grace. Your burden carried, He will take, oh, He will take

Jesus, there is waiting patiently for thee. Hear Him gently calling, come, oh, come to me. Come, oh, come to me. Come, oh, come to me

Won’t you come? Won’t you come? There is freedom, taste and see. Hear the call, come to me. Run into His arms of grace. Your burden carried, He will take

Lessons of Motherhood: A Love Like His

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I still keep kind of forgetting that this holiday and that word, “mother,” apply to me now. I am a mother to a beautiful little boy who lights up my world when he smiles and melts my heart into a puddle when he reaches out his arms to me. People tell you before you have a baby to prepare to love someone like you’ve never loved someone before and it’s true.

It’s funny how much I love him really given how little I really know about him. I know the way he smells and the way he smiles, but there’s still so much I don’t know, like what kind of books he’ll like or his sense of humor or his favorite subject in school. There’s a lot left to know about him, but one thing I do know. I know that he’s mine and for that I love him wholly and completely.

After he was born, the thing I kept thinking was, I’ve never been so sure that I would die for someone as I am that I would die for him. If it was him or me, I’d choose him. If he was in trouble or danger, I would take his place. No questions asked. Because he’s my child. Because selflessness and love are two different words for the same thing.

Isn’t this how God has loved us in Christ? I think back to the Garden of Eden and how right after the fall, God immediately promises to send Jesus (Genesis 3:15). He didn’t have to think about it. He didn’t have to weigh his options and decide if we were worth it. No, the instant He saw that His children were headed for death, Jesus stepped up to the plate and said, “I will take their place.  I will do whatever it takes, pay any price that they may live.” His plan was always to save us.

I know I will not love my son perfectly as God loves us. I know it will not always be easy or fun to love him. I know that real love is costly and hard, but I’m thankful for the privilege of being his mother and for this small, but clearer glimpse into the love of our Savior who so eagerly, so willingly paid the high price to purchase us as His own.

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” Psalm 103:11-13

Marriage Is Not A Right. It’s A Responsibility.

This past weekend I was a bridesmaid in my sister’s wedding and as I watched her walk down the aisle it got me thinking about the issue. Marriage is a hot topic in our country right now. Everybody’s worked up about who and who doesn’t have a right to it. I wonder sometimes though if we are asking the right questions. It occurs to me that part of the reason the issue is so muddled and discussion so futile is that we are talking about different things. We do not agree on who has a right to marriage because we do not agree on what marriage is or what marriage is for. To frame the controversy in terms of the nature and purpose of marriage I think will help bring clarity if not resolution.

So what is marriage? If as some believe, it is nothing more than a man-made institution with the purpose of making us happy, if it is only about the two people getting married and has no meaning beyond this life, then I suppose there is no reason why anyone should not be allowed to marry whomever they choose. I suppose we do have a “right” to it. If however marriage is made by God not just to make us happy, but to make us holy, that changes things entirely. If it is meant to be a picture of the Gospel, a temporal union that foreshadows the eternal union of Christ and His Church, then I believe we must change our language. Marriage is not a right at all. Marriage is a responsibility. It has meaning and purpose that goes beyond us and our earthly happiness and we are answerable to the God who created it.

And this is not just about homosexuality and marriage equality. It is about sexual purity before marriage. It is about adultery and divorce and internet pornography (though there is grace for all these things). It’s about loving and serving your spouse as Christ has loved and served us. It is easy for Christians to get caught up in the issue of homosexuality, but that is just one sin among many that is breaking our marriages and marring the image that we are supposed to display, the image of Christ’s love for his beloved church. I am all for defending biblical values, but it seems to me that it will speak more to a lost world if we fought less over marriage and fought more for our marriages, fought to make them more like this picture they are supposed to display.

This picture has become so distorted by the sin of the world sometimes it seems that it is lost. As I stood in the beautiful outdoors last weekend, and watched my sister and her husband make vows to each other, I thought of the first marriage in the garden and how it and every marriage following was marred by sin. I know in my own marriage, I have become all too aware of my sinfulness, of how short I fall of loving as Christ loves. The good news though? Because Christ has come and died and defeated sin, He is restoring all things. He heals everything that sin has broken, including our marriages. He is taking us back, back to the garden. We who know this truth, have the privilege, not the right, but the responsibility, to portray this to the world.

So let us fight, not so much to change the world’s mind about marriage, but to show them the heart of God and the power of grace through marriage. Let’s walk down the aisle arrayed in white, not because it’s pretty, but because it means something. Let’s solemnly vow to love our spouses for better or for worse because the worse will come as well as the better and we must choose to love as God has chosen to love us. And let us keep these vows as long as we live because it shows the supernatural power of Jesus Christ who has committed to never leave us nor forsake us, to love us and be with us in all things and through all things even to the very end.

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne, said, ‘I am making everything new!'” Revelation 21:2-5

Easter Musings: Pursued by Grace

Our annual celebration of Easter is drawing near and so I have been thinking on what it is all about:  the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  When I think on what it means for me personally and look back on my life thus far, I am struck by the fact that my story is a story of grace from beginning to end.  To quote the Psalmist, the Lord’s goodness and love have followed me and will follow me all the days of my life (Psalm 23).

It is one thing to say that we have found God and quite another thing to say that He has found us. Yet when we really consider our Gospel story, we cannot deny that that is really what has happened and that it makes it all the more wonderful and powerful.  I did not pursue God, but He has pursued me.  did not follow after God’s love, but it has followed after me.

The love and grace of God have pursued us from the beginning.  Our frames were not hidden from Him when He made us in the secret place, as we were woven together in our mother’s wombs, His eyes saw our unformed bodies.  Indeed, “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:14-15).  

He has followed us along every step of our path.  No, he has determined every step of our path with wisdom and love (Proverbs 16:9).  And when our feet have traveled down sinful ways that His holiness forbid Him go, He followed us instead to our rightful place of judgment, condemnation, and punishment.  We find that before we even came to be, His eyes were on us, His grace aimed at us, and His love compelled Him to follow us, nay replace us, on our cross.

This is Easter.  This is why we celebrate, because His grace has pursued us so persistently and His love enveloped our lives so completely that we are completely His.  “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).