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.

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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.

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.

1&2 Thessalonians/Philemon Life Application Bible Study, a review

1&2 Thessalonians/Philemon Life Application Bible Study provides its readers with the NLT translation of the books with the Life Application, notes included, and then follows all 3 books with the study for each book. In total there are 13 lessons, 7 for 1 Thessalonians, 4 for 2 Thessalonians, and 2 for Philemon.

I like the newer translation of the NLT, which this study includes, but still prefer a more literal translation such as NRSV or ESV. The notes are good and the charts included aren’t bad either. The studies for the books, however, are lacking depth. The study does not stretch the reader at all. Most of the questions are the real simple and only skim the surface of the books. All of the questions are “safe” and do not allow the reader to dig deeper into what Paul is trying to say to the church at Thessalonica or to Philemon. I do not recommend this study for even new Christians as the engagement level is too low to be worth while. A good study will challenge its readers to dig deeper into the material.

I received this study free for review from Tyndale.

Psalms, Life Change Series review

Psalms, in the Life Change Series by NavPress, is Bible study for individuals and can be used in a group setting as well. This study takes several Psalms per lesson, grouped by similar themes, and asks soul searching question to help the reader think about their own life in light of the Psalm’s teaching. In the margins, the study suggests more ways to interact with the Psalms in different settings.

This study for what I can tell, as I did not do all of it but sampled several lessons for this review, is not the most in depth scripturally but I am also a seminary student. I think for the average church goer this study is asking more than they normally are willing to give, which is good. The reader needs to engage more throughly with their own life’s in light of the Psalms. The Psalms are great for doing some soul searching. I would like to comment though that the way this study is conducted will not work well with over parts of scripture though, so do not try them there, but work great for the Psalms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review 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 Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Clive Staples Lewis

C. S. Lewis is tenth (and final) on the list.In modern thought no one stands out like C. S. Lewis in my mind. I cannot think of any other person who could write an enduring, gospel filled children series and write a mind blowing (in many ways) book, Mere Christianity. While he is viewed mostly favorably today I think his place in history is still up in the air. I am hoping he over many others represents this era.

John (Jean) Calvin

Jean Calvin is eight on the list.For those who know me, my find Calvin’s inclusion strange. However, I realize that not matter what I am going to have to deal with some variation of his theology. I applaud Calvin’s commitment to God’s sovereignty but have to think he went over board on what that means.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther is seventh on the list.Martin Luther is the most devious on the list in my opinion. While he was a great theologian, I question his Christian spirit from my reading of him. Name calling really. I realize you had a differing view on some elements of theology from the Catholic but it could have been done more maturely. See Erasmus for a potentially better way to handle the situation, aka reform from within not splinter. I also picked Erasmus but thought he is not quite known enough and too close to Luther.

St. Paul

The First Christian (starting on the left) is St. Paul, aka the Apostle Paul aka Saul of Tarsus.

Paul is arguably the the first full time Christian apologetic. Paul as most of us know, traveled throughout Asia Minor just a few decades after Jesus’ death, teaching and then defending the Christian faith. Paul in his own words was an elite Pharisee and very religious. However, his knowledge of rules were lacking in faith. Paul had been zealous but mostly for the rules and not for his personal faith in God. His encounter with Christ began a turn around for him.

For more on Paul read Acts 7 (Stephen’s apology [defense]) and see how Saul became Paul. I also suggest Galatians and Philippians to gain more background information on him from a Biblical perspective.

Paul, writing more Biblical letters than any other author (even if you have doubts about his authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus), defends the faith against Greek/Roman and Jewish perversions. While both eventually do influence the Christian faith, Paul’s letters make it clear that there were problems from the very beginning of Christianity. Paul calls on Christians to unite and hold fast to their faith in Christ and to not let anyone persuade you away.

These are the primary reasons I went with Paul. So remember hold fast to the your faith in Christ and do not let anyone pull you away.

Chasing Francis, a review

Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron is a fictional account of a pastor taking a pilgrimage to discover the true life, life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Chase Falson is the main character, who at the beginning of this story has a melt down one Sunday morning at his church he founded some years back. The church is unsure how to progress so Chase takes some time off and visits his uncle in Italy who happens to be a Franciscan priest. It is during this trip that Chase discovers Francis and decides how he will progress but will the church take him back?

This story was quite simple, though there are some twists. Despite the twists the story overall, is lacking. However, the discovery of Saint Francis is quite detailed and well told. I enjoyed learning the history of Francis and the parts of his theology/philosophy. The story unfortunately had huge jumps, and the timeline was hard to follow. As a fan of history I enjoyed the historical portions but thought the fictional story could have been much more developed. I do like how it ended though. I would recommend this book to history and theology lovers but not to fiction lovers. If Ian Morgan Cron writes another book of this nature I would try it, hoping he develops the fictional parts a little more.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review 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 Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”