Why Is a Love Story Told as a Tale of Horror?

This morning I was watching Outside the Lines on ESPN as I do most Sunday mornings before going to church. The story this morning was about Tim Tebow and his outspokenness of his faith. My dad happened to be watching with me since he had come town to for the Baylor – SFA game. My dad is not a Christian. He was letting me know about how he did not like how Tebow had the Bible verses on his eye liners. Because of how outspoken Tebow is, my dad is not a fan. Then they also showed a clip of Tebow preaching. In the clip Tebow was giving the standard line of if you do not accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior you are going to Hell. This approach more than anything else in the story got to thinking about how we present to Good News of the coming Kingdom. The story is a love story of God through Jesus pursuing reconciliation, a relationship. Essentially it is a love story. Yet when people preach the message as Tebow did it does not sound like a love story, it sounds like a tale of horror. God is so angry with you that God is going to throw you in Hell, unless you accept God’s son who was brutally murdered. The love and grace is underplayed while the fear and pain is overplayed. I think this is the wrong approach to spreading the Good News. Shouldn’t the message sound good instead of bad. One might argue that well isn’t escaping Hell good news? It can be but what is the motivation for them believing in this telling, to escape Hell or because they have found a meaningful relationship with Christ. Jesus is not a get out of Hell free card. We seek a relationship with God because we love God and wish to be reconciled just as God wishes to be reconciled to us. This fire and brimstone approach fails utterly at this aspect, which is, in my opinion, the most important. If escaping Hell, is the reason you claim to have a relationship with God, you may want to reexamine if there is a real relationship there.

I was thinking about this while we were singing at church. I thought, ‘I think this might be a good topic to blog about.’ Little did I know that the sermon was going to have a similar vibe. The sermon was on Matthew 20:1-16. Josh explained that Heaven may be too graceful. God may allow for people we do not want to be in Heaven. Some people who are assured they are going to Heaven may think twice about going if they knew who God was willing to show grace and mercy to and allow into Heaven. He then showed this picture, which I think is the best example of God’s unending grace…

How many people are accepting of this picture? But isn’t this what Jesus came to teach us. To pray for our enemies, to be servants to the world. He did say be servants of those who you like? God’s grace abounds further than we can imagine. God wishes for one and all to come and be reconciled, including Osama bin Laden. I believe this extends throughout eternity. Jesus’ death was a never ending invitation to be reconciled. I do not pretend to know why sin and evil were allowed to come into being, my best guess is it is a true consequence of free will. I particularly like the idea of Hell being locked from the inside, meaning those ‘trapped’ are free to leave. C. S. Lewis deals with this notion his book The Great Divorce, I highly recommend it.

So would you being willing to live in a Heaven that included Osama bin Laden, Hitler, Casey Anthony, etc.? I think God is willing and has been willing to extend them an invitation. What is your motivation for wanting to be in Heaven, to escape Hell or because you believe in a God who wishes for reconciliation with all the earth. One reason I believe God is willing to pursue this reconciliation for all eternity, is this one haunting question… Can Heaven be heaven if your parent or child was not there? The Good News is that God is unveiling God’s Kingdom and the invitation has been extended to all. This is what we should be preaching, the invitation to the Kingdom, to reconciliation, not a get out of Hell free card. The invitation is not for our sole benefit, it is a reconciliation of the a fallen world to God.


10 Years Later: The Lesson Not Learned

Ten Years ago today an event happened that altered how America views the world. While there has been positives gained from the experience, there are a key lesson I think America has failed at.

You may ask why would you write this now, on this day. Well, there are tons of stories stating what we have learned that have come out this past week and today, what good does those stories do if they do not also include what ‘we’ still could improve upon?

A terror attack’s main goal is to induce terror. I would say since 11 September 2001Americnas have been more terrified of the world ‘we’ live in. ‘We’ have given into the idea behind the attacks, ‘we’ have vilified a third of the world, a view ‘them’ as ‘them’ and to a greater extent dehumanized ‘them.’

‘We’ have not learned from Gandhi and MLK. ‘We’ have retaliated creating more pain and suffering. A reason given for this was the celebrations in the streets in Middle Eastern countries after the news of the attacks spread. This justified ‘our’ need to respond, see ‘they’ all believe in death to America. ‘They’ all hate us, the celebrations proves it. May I remind ‘us’ that ‘we’ did the exact same thing a few months ago. Osama bin Laden had been murdered and spontaneous celebration broke out across America, chants of USA and people went out into the streets to celebrate. How does this differ? While I think there is a difference, it does not convey a significant difference in attitudes between the two actions. ‘They’ celebrated the falling of a symbol and ‘we’ did so in return. What kind of message does this send? ‘They’ got ‘us’ so ‘we’ get ‘them’ back. For a nation that many wish to call a ‘Christian’ nation, how ‘Christian’ is that response. Last time I checked Jesus said love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you, not retaliate and dehumanize them.

The attacks were an opportunity for ‘us’ to work on reconciliation, to understand a culture different from ‘our’ own. Instead ‘we’ highlighted the differences, working hard to distance ‘ourselves’ from ‘them.’ The gospel is about creating life out of chaos, calling out the foreigner to join the banquet feast. America has chosen another path. ‘We’ responded to terror with terror, ‘we’ furthered the issues that differentiated ‘us’ and ‘them.’

My hope is in the next ten years, this will be the path ‘we’ take, one of reconciliation not hate, peace not war, forgiveness not retaliation. That ‘we’ venture to learn from ‘them,’ to understand ‘them’ on ‘their’ own terms from ‘their’ perspective. The goal would be that there is no longer a ‘us’ and ‘them’ but a collective humanity. ‘Us,’ ‘them,’ we all were created in the image of God, maybe we could treat all people with that respect.

May we forgive, there is no need to forget, we can remember, remember that that was the day we recognized all as human, every single person no matter the color of their skin, the religion proclaimed, the place of residence, etc, a day we united to say you and I are human. A day to learn to live in a global world with our fellow humans. To create out the chaos a new creation, one in which we recognize each other as human.

This has begun in the ‘Arab Spring.’ ‘They’ have learned, violence and terror are not needed to effect change. Nonviolent resistance can be just as effective, if not more so. May ‘we’ remember those lessons, from Gandhi, MLK, and North Africa.

To forgive and forget is to not learn. May ‘we’ forgive and learn, learn to love ‘our’ ‘enemies.’

NLT Sweepstakes

NLT wanted to fill you in on an exciting contest that is currently being run and sponsored by the New Living Translation. Their highlighting three ministries, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Oasis International, and The Dream Center, (click on the link to learn more details about these ministries) and by voting for one of these ministries you’ll be entered to win one of many prizes. To enter, visit the NLT Facebook page by clicking here. There are several levels of prizes you can win, here are the details: With the Give the Word Bible Contest and Giveaway: • Ministries win: Each time the NLT Facebook Page reaches a fan count milestone, votes will be tallied and the three ministries will receive cash donations from the New Living Translation and Tyndale House Publishers. • Everyone wins: Everyone who enters on the Bible Contest website wins a free download of Matthew West reading the Christmas story. • Daily NLT Study Bible winners: Vote on the NLT Facebook page and you will be entered to win two NLT Study Bibles—one to keep and one to give away. A new winner will be chosen every day. • Weekly Give the Word Locally winners: Tell us about a deserving local ministry on the NLT Bible Contest website and they could win five NLT Study Bibles and $250 worth of NLT products. • One Grand Prize winner will enjoy a unique trip customized just for them and their family (or three guests of their choice), to Wycliffe Bible Translators world headquarters and the WordSpring Discovery Center where they will experience firsthand the exciting world of Bible translation. The Grand Prize winner could also choose to donate the value of the trip–$2000–to Wycliffe instead.

Son of Hamas, a review

Son of Hamas is a true story about Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of one of the founders of Hamas. In his tale, Mosab tells what it was like growing up in Israel as a Palestinian and how he began to view the conflict between Israel and Palestine differently. He had hated the Israelites for the majority of his childhood but some chance happenings in his life altered how viewed the violence and ideologies behind Hamas, PLO, Israel etc. In fact, Mosab became an undercover agent and details many of his missions.

I really liked this book. It was not well written, but the fact that the events were true and many of the accounts were dangerous made up for the lack of writing skills. Had this been a fiction book, I probably would not have finished it. Please note the author is writing from his own point of view, but I think he does give some great insight into the conflict and even more an appropriate response for Christians to consider. I had read a book by Ted Dekker, Tea with Hezbollah, which deals with the same things from a different approach, so if you like Son of Hamas then I recommend Tea with Hezbollah as well and vice versa. Both of these books, I think, give a truer Christian response than the current climate gives. 4 out of 5 stars.

See my review of Tea with Hezbollah, click here.

I was provided this book by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a review.

The Least Among You, a review

The Least Among You is a film based on a true story of a young Black man, Richard who attends a previously all-white seminary as probation for an arrest during a riot. The film follows Richard as he is placed in school with people of competing agendas, including, his mom, the dean, and even himself. Will one agenda overcome the others, or will they come together for the good of all?

Overall, this film has a strong message. The story was compelling but unfortunately, the budget, the script, and/or the production made the film hard to follow at points. The film itself, being produced by a Christian company has to make some obvious adjustments to content which is fine, but the somewhere in the production the story became jumpy. There were points between scenes I was confused how we transitioned between the two. I am not sure if this was a problem with the script, the production, he budget, or a combination. Because of this I have to give the film a lower rating. If you can overcome the jumpy transitions you may find a compelling message that is worth the trouble. 3/5 stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this film free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Homeless for the Holidays, a review

I received the movie Homeless for the Holidays from Team Buzzplant to review. The movie follows a family who is your typical upper-middle class family. They have two cars, a big house, and the dad is over worked. His commitment to work is a tension at home. He ends up losing his job to due an error in a label he supposedly signed off on, the misprint caused injury to several users. Although he did nothing wrong, he took the hit so the company would stay open, with the promise to be rehired when things cleared up. The rest of the movie follows the events of his life (the movie is based on a true story).

While the movie had a good premise, and the trueness behind the story I am sure is wonderful, there seemed to be a few too many fantastical elements. Realizing the budget was low, the acting was decent. Do not expect an all-star acting. Despite the lacks in acting the actors did much better than I have seen in other low budget movies. My main concern is the understated political messages. There are two clear parts that give the impression that the government is out to take your money and waste it and the church is the only place to give your money. Essentially stating big government is evil. Well, I cannot disagree with some of the sentiments given, they are completely unnecessary for the story and Christians fall all over the place on these issues (I believe all would think Christians should give to their church, but disagree on the government’s role in helping people). If the movie lacked these political statements I would give it 2 1/2 stars out of 4, deductions for unrealistic elements, some jumpiness, and mediocre acting, however because of the political issues I have to give it only 1 star.

Again the premise of the story is nice and this film might work well with upper elementary kids and their parents, I do not see anyone much older wanting to see the movie. A good family night movie especially if the, at least, two scenes of politicized messages are reworked.

(I received an advanced screening copy so the scenes could have/be edited to remove to the political issues.)

When Enough is Enough, Airport Security

The following is an email I sent to the TSA asking for common sense to be used…

I have not flown under the new security measures but have heard quite a deal about them in the news. At what point will the TSA say enough is enough for checking individuals. The first goal of terrorism is to incite terror. It seems the TSA has become terrified, thus the terrorist have been successful. While I agree I would like to be safe while traveling, I would also like to be respected as an individual. I realize for years I have let certain rights protected by the fourth amendment go, by allowing my bags to be checked, but at what point do we say enough is enough. I would say, and many others it would seem say, that the full body scans and pat downs (read gropings) is a point too far. Not only do these go well beyond the previous measures, they greatly increase the wait at the airport according to several reports. I, again, repeat the goal of terrorism is to incite terror, putting people through the hassle of the new airport security measures only shows that the terrorist are succeeding in their goals. When we give up our rights, we have admitted we are scared (read terrified) and are only furthering the terrorists’ beliefs that they are accomplishing their mission. I ask that common sense be employed and that these new security measures that go well beyond a reasonable invasion of privacy be stopped. When we lose our guaranteed freedoms we become one step closer to becoming more like the ones we are trying to stop. I appreciate the TSA’s concern for our safety while traveling but at some point enough is enough and I believe the TSA has passed this point.

… I think if people write rational and well thought complaints to TSA (which I hope mine is), then I think the TSA will have to at least discuss alternatives to their current measures. Boycotting plane travel only works to a certain point, because really the boycott effects the airlines and not the TSA, first and foremost. Also, people traveling internationally are much more limited in their options as boat takes much more time than flying, compared to driving versus flying continentally. I think cooler heads and rational discussion will bring better results than yelling arguing. Trust me, I do not like the idea of having to go through these measures, as I will be flying next year potentially on three different trips and would like to avoid having to choose between a body scan or pat down. If the measures are still in place I will voice that I believe this measures are beyond reasonable but comply (as I will have no other choice if I plan to complete my trips). I suggest that if you agree that the new measures are beyond reasonable that you contact the TSA (https://contact.tsa.dhs.gov/DynaForm.aspx?FormID=10) and let them know in a rational way. (Feel free to use my response if you wish, however I think it will make a bigger impact if each email is worded differently.)

7 Minute Life products

I received The 7 Minute Difference and The 7 Minute Life daily planner from TeamBuzzPlant. This would not be material that I would buy for myself. I only flipped through the book. The book looked like it would be a good book for someone who needed motivation and ideas for how to better organize their live. I would never personally read a book of this sort so it hard judge whether this book is any better or worse than other ones out there. The planner is the new addition. Besides being a standard planner it includes places for additional information. I do not use planners and never really used this one. I forget to refer back to any planner I use and this one was no different. I do not see this planner changing your usage of a planner, unless of course you decide to make the change. However, this planner does seem to have great resources for those who do use planners. I highly believe this planner would be useful for those in business who like and regularly use planners. The spaces for daily contacts and things unfinished tasks seem useful in a business setting. Again it is hard for me to judge seeing I have a hard time keeping a planner. So, if you like reading life organizing books and using planners, I recommend trying out these products, if you do not and are not motivated to use a planner then look elsewhere.

If you would like more info check out the website www.the7minutelifesystem.com.


How We Should Have Viewed 9/11

An Islamic community center has been proposed near, again I say, near, the site of the former Twin Towers in NY, “Ground Zero.” This of course brought controversy and the way this controversy has developed is quite frightening to me. I bring this up being the ninth anniversary of 11 September 2001.

I first think there has been an overblown reaction to what happened on 9/11. Instead of Americans waking up to realize that the world is and always has been a violent place and we could be the model for beginning the reversal of this trend. However, as a “Christian” nation (something I vehemently disagree with calling America) we do the un-Christ like reaction of bombing and invading. I remember Christ promoting peace and love, right? Maybe we should go back and read what He taught, I think that would wake us all up, as we all need grace and continually.

As Americans we have allowed this one single act, 9/11, to be our complete and full understanding of the Islamic religion. Do I believe I know the ins and outs of their religion, no, but do I have a knowledge of all the nuances of the Bible, no, do you? If we allow this one event to be are full understanding of Islam then it is perfectly fine for them to point to the Spanish Inquisition or Crusades to be the full and complete understanding of Christianity. Or, would you want someone to define you by one act in your own life, especially an act you are not even proud of? Yet this is what we are doing with 9/11.

If we truly believe in religious freedom and a just society we will welcome the Islamic community center near the “Ground Zero” (GZ) site. This center will, if it functions as proposed, be a place for young Islamic men and women to come and learn about their faith and how to live their lives in America, not as terrorists but as citizens.

A complaint I have heard about this center being so close to GZ: ‘They are building this center on hallow ground.’ If the area is hallowed ground, then America worships strip joints and bars which are much closer to GZ than this center will be. (Though I would argue many do unknowably worship these type places.) Another complaint I have heard is that Islam is a religion that believes in converting everyone to Islam. Okay, this is news how, Christianity also promotes conversion. Anyone remember the Great Commission: Go make disciples in all the nation… How is that any different, oh, right this is Islam we are speaking about so it has to be completely different and terrible.

I can understand an American having these mind frames (we cannot allow this center to be built) but Christians that happen to live in America also having this mind frame is pathetic. I agree, I do not think Islam leads to a true understanding of God, but to show hatred the way many Christians that live in America have is un-Christ like. As Christians we are called to be a better kingdom, the Kingdom of God (no, this is not America, sorry). We are to be peacemakers and live lives that promote and speak of this Kingdom. Will we always be the best examples, no, we are a fallen people saved through faith, but we can be a lot better than we have been here in America. If we want America to be a nation full of Christians (not a Christian nation, Christ did not come and die for land, He did so for people) then we need to start acting like Him. When did He ever go into a Roman temple and condemn it, never, when did He criticize where they where building Roman shrines/temples, never. He did inform the Jewish leaders of how they were misunderstanding what God has called for them. He did go to the people, Jewish and Gentile alike, to show them what the Kingdom of God is and can be. This is what we need to do as Christians. We can go to them and tell them we disagree with their view of God, if we are persecuted for this, so be it, Christ promised us persecution. Maybe the fact we are not being persecuted is a telling sign of how far we have gotten away for Christ? (That statement includes myself.)

The world is full of people with differing ideas, opposing ideologies, and with people (of all races, religions, gender, ages, etc.) prone to violence. Should we in turn respond with hate and violence to those we disagree with, not according to Christ. We should turn the other cheek; we should love them; where they are, not where we want them to be. Love them unconditionally.

As Christians (Americans who are not Christians are allowed to think differently if they wish) we should not oppose the center and should work on changing how we respond to those who may hate, disagree, or oppose us. We are to love them no matter. We were informed to Love God and love our neighbor, and everyone is our neighbor.

I ask that this 9/11 be the beginning of us, Christians, on fully committing to loving others, no matter their, race, gender, religion, economic status, age, and any other label you can think of. But, not to love them as we understand love on earth, but as God loves us, unconditionally. Will we get this right all the time, no, but I think we can improve from where we are, not matter our past accomplishments or failures.

Immanuel’s Veins, a review

I was given an Advanced copy to read and write an endorsement for the book, Immanuel’s Veins. This is what I turned in.

I really enjoyed Immanuel’s Vein’s by Ted Dekker. I read the entire book in two days, which is unusually fast for me. I was captivated to find out how this story of love and redemption, and small dose of betrayal, would end. While the book sounded like a Dekker book it was also completely new. Dekker, unlike any other fiction author I have read, can take a theme and magnify it through story and IV only expounds upon this. I highly recommend this to any fiction lover.

–Travis Clarke, 25, Waco,  George W. Truett Seminary Student

(I have been told my endorsement is in the front of the book in a slightly edited form, for length I guess maybe some tone.)

***Possible spoilers included here on out.*** I obviously left in the positive aspects of the book for my endorsement and fully stand behind them, though there were one or two hiccups in my opinion, but not enough for me to not write a positive endorsement. So let me explain my endorsement in full and add a little about the minor hiccups.

As all his other books, the theme is the driving force of the story and not necessarily the story itself, which is why I can read his books and not think he has already done this, FBI type guy falls for the girl.

For the sounding like a Dekker but being new, deals with the fact that this is Dekker’s first first person book. I do not read many first person fiction stories so this was new for me, I read Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee a little later. I struggle a little with this part, mostly I think from my lack of reading these type books. However, I was able to work through that, and think that is more of a personal thing than a knock against the book. Again I found the theme to be the driving force and kept me in the story.

Hiccup: As the last book for Thomas Nelson, Ted I think wanted to wrap up any open doors he created in his large arching Circle trilogy connecting stories (i.e. The Circle series, and Books of History series). So in this book he does, by explaining the consequence of Alucard entering “our world” from the circle series. A careful reader will realize that Alucard is just Dracula spelled backwards and is Dekker’s explanation of vampires and works. However I think with the Twilight saga and True Blood the vampire angle is over flooded and need not a Christian spin. I spent a good portion of the book hoping this was not what was being alluded to, but it was. I can live with it, and if it were not for the other vampire stories floating around now, it would have been perfectly fine. Again, Dekker’s take on vampires is great I just worry about how it will play out with the other stories also being popular.

So overall I really liked this book and thus gave it a positive endorsement. As one can see I gave it four stars, took one away for the story not being as original as I would like. But again the theme is more important in Dekker’s books than the story itself.