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.’

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.

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.

The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, a review

John MacArthur decided modern Christianity has become too nice and has lost the passion and zeal that Jesus had. MacArthur spends the book explaining how Jesus was confrontational with the Pharisees and Scribes. He uses a harmonization of the gospels to show how Jesus made the first move in this confrontation. Ultimately, MacArthur preposes that we, as Christians, cannot sugar coat the truth.

I agree with MacArthur’s overarching idea but found he included too much speculation and failed to make solid connections between the then and now. MacArthur in the prologue decries how some Christians, including most evangelicals, are too nice to Islam with interfaith dialogues. However, the rest of the book describes Jesus only interacting with fellow Jewish leaders and not interacting with the Roman religion. MacArthur, also, fails to discuss the historical culture compared to the culture today and if this could explain some of Jesus’ actions being so confrontational. I know not much later Paul preached/debated out in the open on his travels as it was cultural to do so. I think he had historical schizophrenia while writing this book, he had some great research in this book but failed to apply it across the whole book. So while MacArthur is right, we should proclaim the truth and not accept heresy to enter the church, we should still be cordial with other faiths which he fails to mention or distinguish.

So I agree, we cannot ignore this aspect of Jesus, but we can and probably should ignore this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their 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.”

The Kingdom Life, a review

The Kingdom Life edited by Alan Andrews explores the practical theology of spiritual formation.  It has contributions from multiple authors, including Dallas Willard. They (TACT) broke spiritual formation into two parts process and theological. The books begins with the seven process elements and concludes with the three theological elements.

I found most of the chapters/elements thoughtful and challenging. However, a few of them seemed to have too much overlap and relied too heavily on one source. Two recurring sources were Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines and Thomas á Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ. One or two chapters just seemed like the author’s take on these sources and had little of their own information. The authors also agreed not to give specific steps on spiritual formation because it will be different for every church and person however, I would have liked a few more examples than those given. Finally, I would have started with the theological elements first, especially with the Bible in Spiritual Formation, instead of it being the last chapter. To me it is better to start off biblically and then move from there. Despite these minor issues, I think a reader of this book will be challenged, the epilogue was especially challenging and helpful conclusion to this work.

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.”