It’s a Jesus Thing


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JesusHeals“Then the King will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.'” (Matthew 25: 40 CEB).

Have you read your Bible lately? Have you read one of the Gospels lately? I’m honestly curious about this. As Christians, we all have some kind of belief that the Bible is the word of God. Some of us believe that it was literally dictated to the human authors, some of us believe that it was an inspired work of human hands, but we’re all supposed to take it pretty seriously, right? Then when we read the actual words of Jesus, we’re REALLY supposed to sit up and take notice.

I’m just wondering because it seems like the Bible has a lot to say about some of the current things that are going on in the United States. I’m actually pretty proud of the way most Christians have taken a stand on one issue, and not so much the other.

Recently the President announced his decision to end an Obama-era rule that allowed people who were brought to the USA illegally as children to stay under certain circumstances. These kids are collectively known as “dreamers.” Let’s be clear about this. These people did not choose to come here in the fashion in which they did. Many of them came at such young ages that they have no knowledge of their native country. I picture them a lot like my sister, who we adopted from India at age 7. She likes Indian food, but she really has no recollection of Indian culture. Several years ago she went to India to visit her native country. It didn’t really click for her. She’s an American, she has been for nearly 30 years.

The Bible is of course pretty clear on how immigrants should be treated, from Leviticus 19:34:

Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.

This command is repeated several times in the Old Testament and echoes through the New Testament as well. The statement isn’t qualified either. It doesn’t say that you only act this way if….followed by conditions. You just do it. The oppression that Israel suffered in Egypt was so grave that this command became, and still is, a part of Jewish identity. Few peoples have suffered like the Jews in our history, yet they continue to practice this command today.

Many Christians do too. I was actually heartened by the response of the vast majority of the Christian community on this. Many different churches and religious leaders spoke up against this and said that we need to make a law that allows these young men and women to stay. It’s helping, too. This last Sunday at church we received a very good report from some faith leaders who met with some of our congressional delegation who said that they believe there is enough momentum on both sides of aisle in Washington to fix this. I hope that it’s true. Then I hope that it can lead to comprehensive immigration reform.

But then there’s this other issue. Senator Bernie Sanders is introducing a single payer healthcare bill into the US Senate. Now I don’t hold out hope for this, but so many people need it. This isn’t an issue of being able to afford it either. This country is the richest country ever to grace the face of the earth. We can afford it. Maybe we build a few less bombs. Maybe we realign our budget priorities a bit.

This was definitely a priority for Jesus. I was skimming the opening chapters of Mark’s gospel before I started writing this and it’s just chuck full of stories of Jesus healing people. It was one of the bedrocks of his ministry. He rejected the way the world values the lives of sick people and poor people and put them and their needs first. As my pastor says: “If you take the priorities of the world and turn them totally upside down, you end up with something that’s a lot closer to the priorities of Jesus and His Kingdom.”

However, many in the Christian community have not gotten behind this at all. I’m not sure why. Jesus seems pretty clear on this. Some will inevitably say that “Jesus would never direct us to give up what we’ve earned to poor people!” Well, I think the rich young ruler might disagree (Mark 10: 17-31). When Jesus directs the rich man to do just that, the Scripture says:

But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

I think a lot of us are in that place. We have been so blessed with abundance that we can’t see beyond it. I know I can be that way. Even though we may not be wealthy by American standards, we’re really wealthy by the standard of the rest of the world, thus I believe that these words of Jesus are directed at us as well:

Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s Kingdom!’

Yet not all Christians ignore this edict. This is why I am proud to be a United Methodist. We certainly have our own issues, but I love the position the church puts forth on this issue. From The Book of Discipline, 2016 edition, in the Social Principles (Paragraph 162 V)

We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care. We encourage hospitals, physicians, and medical clinics to provide primary health care to all people regardless of their health care coverage or their ability to pay for treatment.

Sounds like a good, Christian statement, and I support it 100%.  I don’t support it because I’m a democrat, though I am. I don’t support it because I want to stick it to the rich folks. I don’t support it because it would be a “victory” for my “side,” I support it because it will do the most good for the most people. I also support it because I try to follow the example set before me by the Son of the Living God.

So you see, neither of these issues are a political thing for me.

They’re a Jesus thing.


Hate Has No Place


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1jn420I’ve been on kind of an unintended hiatus from the blog lately for a few reasons. First off, my mom has been in and out of the hospital, and while she is definitely doing better, there’s been a lot of doctor’s appointments and other things she’s needed help with. Secondly, I’ve been working through the material I need to go through for the local pastor program in the United Methodist Church, which is extensive.  Finally I’ve been doing some reading and research for a Sunday School class I’m teaching this Fall, and all of this in the scant free time I have after coming home from my full time job. Needless to say, there hasn’t been a ton of time left over for the blog, which I have missed a lot.

I’ll get back to the “Great Hell Smackdown of 2017.” I still have at least three entries I want to do in that series, but I had to take the time to talk about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday. If you somehow haven’t heard, here’s what happened.

A large group of Nazis decided to gather in Charlottesville, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m not going to legitimize them by calling them something like “white activists,” “alt right,” or even “white supremacists.” They’re Nazis, pure and simple. Friday night they held a large torch bearing rally at the University of Virginia. Once you got past the absurdity of using tiki torches in such a fashion, you realize the only things missing were swastikas, the SS banners, and a stand in for Hitler:


Do you still think they’re not Nazis? I mean yeah, the tiki torches kind of take away from the intimidation factor, but yup, they’re definitely Nazis. Anyway, I guess the Citronella finally ran out and the Nazis reconvened Saturday morning having exchanged the tiki torches for riot shields, SS banners, Swastika flags, and of course, the Confederate battle flag, which people constantly tell me stands for heritage not hate but keeps popping up alongside Swastikas and SS Banners, so whatever.


Saturday morning the Nazis were met by counter protestors. In the crowd were a few folks from the left wing antifascist group Antifa, and some fights broke out between some of these folks and the Nazis. Now look, I don’t care for Antifa’s methods, trying to incite violence is never the right way to go, but hey, at least they’re not Nazis. Also amongst the counter protestors were members of Black Lives Matter, several clergy men and women, students from UVA, and just everyday people who didn’t want to see hate flower in their community.

After a couple of tense hours the police finally managed to separate both sides and things seemed to simmer down a little. However, early in the afternoon a young man with a  heart full of hate and malice drove his car directly into the crowd of counter protestors. He injured several people and killed 32 year old Heather Heyer, a paralegal who was in the crowd.


I’m not going to post the name or the picture of the Nazi that killed her. He doesn’t deserve any more fame than he’s already gotten. This young woman’s life was cut short by hate, the same hate that has become almost mainstream since the last election. Certain political forces in our country decided to stoke the fear and the hate of White Nationalism in order to win the election, and now it’s becoming clear that they’ve opened Pandora’s box and enabled hate and vitriol to claim more innocent lives.

This isn’t about “Southern Heritage.” That’s just an excuse people use in order to mainstream their message of hate. Trust me, I’m up there with the biggest Civil War Buffs of them all. I’ve been to the battlefields, I’ve read the books. This stopped being about “Southern Heritage” a long time ago. We had a war about it. A lot of people died, and the outcome was decisive. Time to move on. We also had a war with Nazis. A lot of people died. The Nazis exterminated millions of people just because of their ethnicity. In the end, the big bad Fuhrer that these guys idolize so much sat huddled away in his bunker next to his girl and took his own life like the coward he was. The outcome was decisive.

The Confederacy and the system of human bondage it stood for lost.
The Third Reich and the system of dehumanizing hate it stood for lost.
Hate will lose in the end.


I don’t know anymore.

I have a confession to make. I sat this afternoon and looked at the picture of the man who killed Ms. Heyer and I hated him. It was more than righteous anger, I hated him with every fiber of my being. I wanted vengeance to be visited on him for what he did.

And I realized in that moment that I was no better than he was. I realized in that moment that I had betrayed the promises I have made as a Christian. Hate has no place among the followers of Christ. Jesus himself said:

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.” (Matthew 5:44).

But surely he doesn’t mean that we are supposed to reach out in love to these Nazis, right? Yes I’m afraid that’s exactly what he means. That’s the entire point of this part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is prescribing a different way. The way of the world is to meet force with force, violence with violence, hate with hate, and anger with anger. We humans have been doing that throughout our entire existence, and it never seems to stop, it never seems to solve the problem.

Jesus is asking us to try something different, to try to stand up with subversive love. This is not meant to be weakness. Any old person can respond to anger with anger. It takes true strength to respond in love despite the actions of the other party. That doesn’t mean that you condone what they did. It doesn’t mean that you don’t stand up for the weak and the oppressed. What it means is that when it comes time to put your money where your mouth is that you respond with love, grace, and forgiveness and try to break the cycle of hate.

Look, violence and hate will never produce lasting change. Folks like Antifa spraying raw sewage on Nazis isn’t going to change anybody. It just entrenches people in their own positions.

Only love, deep sacrificial love can change people. Jesus showed us that. Dr. King showed us that. Many people involved in the civil rights movement were badly injured or went to their death to show us that.

Heather Heyer shows us that.

Hate has no place. It doesn’t matter if it’s the hate of the Nazis or the hate directed to them. It is the people of love and grace who will triumph. Will you join me in working on that? Will you open your heart and mind to the Spirit to be directed on that path? Will we all have the strength it takes to be peacemakers?

Tonight I pray for all those in Charlottesville who have had their community up ended. I pray for those who are victims of hate and oppression. I pray for the family and friends of Heather Heyer. I pray for those who were injured. I also pray for those who harbor hate in their heart, that God can break the hearts of stone and show them a better way.

I pray for all of us.

So be it.


The Great Hell Smackdown of 2017 Part 3: I Have Some Questions.


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doghellSo if you’ve been following this series you know that I’ve been reading a lot about Hell. Is Hell a thing or not? If it is, how do you get out of going there? I’ve read two books with vastly different takes on the matter: “Love Wins,” by Rob Bell and “Erasing Hell,” by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. However, before I give you my particular verdict on eternal torment, I still have some questions that need to be answered, even after reading both of those extremely well thought out and researched books.

At what age are people in danger of going to Hell?
This refers to what is often called the “age of accountability” in Western Christianity. How old were you when you were first cognizant that what you were doing was a sin, but you decided to do it anyway? Most western denominations talk about some kind of an age where you are finally responsible for your own behavior, and thus in need of Salvation to avoid Hell. Many borrow the timing of the Jewish coming of age rituals and put it around 13. It is lower in others. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) puts the minimum age at 8.

This is part of the reason why many churches practice infant baptism. They have the belief that through baptism God’s grace will cover you until you reach the age of accountability. Churches that have descended from the Anabaptist perspective practice “believer’s baptism” where the person is not baptized until he or she has reached the age of accountability and can choose Salvation for themselves. Many of these denominations have mechanisms built into their theology to cover young children until they reach the age of accountability because, let’s face it, nobody is comfortable with the idea of a 10 year old who get’s hit by a drunk driver being sent to eternal torment. Of course some Calvinists would really just leave it up to God and hope that the ten year old was part of the “predestined elect.”

What about the mentally handicapped?
Modern psychology and medicine have taught us that there are people in this world who do not have the mental capacity to grasp what “choosing Salvation” even means let alone comprehend the consequences of making that choice or rejecting it. In times past some might look on the plight of these people and wonder what sin their parents committed to make them like that. Nowadays most serious people see these conditions for what they are.

So if they are unable to choose for themselves, what happens? Do they go to heaven or hell? From my reading I saw that again, most churches have built in a theological construct that says that people like this do not have the capacity to consciously sin, therefore they are not in peril of hell.

Unless you’re a hardcore Calvinist that believes that your entire nature at birth is corrupt, at which point hopefully the person is one of the “elect.”

What about those “untouched” tribes that live in a jungle somewhere?
This is one, that to his credit, Chan tackles in his book. He said he believes that God has other ways to reach these indigenous peoples with his grace. Some missionaries have arrived to talk to different tribes over the years only to find that someone in the tribe seems to have had some kind of vision of Jesus. This is not to be confused with the LDS belief that Jesus visited some tribal peoples in the Western Hemisphere after departing from his disciples. I’m not trying to be cantankerous, but I find no Biblical or archaeological evidence for that. Christ clearly states that “you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The thing I liked about the way Chan dealt with it in his book is that he just kind of said, “I don’t know, so I trust them to the mercy of God.” He was uncomfortable with the question and didn’t have a good answer, and he was man enough to admit it. He did suggest that we should redouble our efforts to reach these people and depending on how you feel about overt evangelism, you may agree with that or not, but that’s for another day.

Can an all-loving God really send people to Hell for eternal torment?
The short answer to this question is yes. God is God and can do anything he pleases. I don’t generally like that answer, but I think it’s true and it’s something we should all wrestle with. I agree with Chan when he asserts that sometimes we in our “enlightened” western culture try to domesticate God. We want to try to fit him into our own moral system and when we do that we are basically recasting God in OUR image. That is idolatry.

God is God, and we are not. Sometimes I think we would do well to remember that.

So, as Chan and Sprinkle state, the question is not really “Can you believe in an all loving God that sends people to Hell,” but “Do you WANT TO BELIEVE in a God that is all loving yet still sends people to Hell?” Many of us don’t want to believe in that God. We don’t want to have to defend our faith in that God. We want to hide him in the back like a crazy, foul mouthed relative.

I feel like that sometimes. I feel like that a lot, but is that any way to treat the King of the Universe?

Now I’m not saying God sends people to Hell or for what reasons he might send people to Hell. I don’t get to sit in that judgment seat, but I recognize that he does. I have a hard time reconciling my firm belief that God is Love, but that Love could banish people to eternal torment.

But for this, for the other questions I listed above, and for a million other questions I could ask, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t anticipate being provided with the answers either, yet I know that there is value in wrestling with these questions, in studying these scriptures and these issues, and using them to be a springboard into deepening my relationship with my creator.

Maybe you wrestle with some of these, and others. I’d advise you to pray and be open to the leading of the Spirit, whichever way it takes you. Being honest with God is one of the first steps in building our relationship with him, and it’s my firm belief that he doesn’t mind being asked about these questions.





The Great Hell Smackdown of 2017 Part 2: Is Gandhi in Hell?


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gandhi1Well that’s quite the, uh, provocative question, isn’t it? I mean how many of us Christians have ever really stopped and thought about that. Yet that is the question that Rob Bell opens his book “Love Wins” with.

If you remember, that’s what this series “The Great Hell Smackdown of 2017” is all about. I’m reading that book by Rob Bell as well as “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. I’ll be posting this and some other entries about some of the things both talk about , I’ll review both books, then I’ll talk about whether any of these authors challenged my view on the subject and talk about why they see this doctrine in such a different light.

But back to Gandhi and his “eternal fate.”

Gandhi was a lot of things, pretty much all of them totally awesome, but he was a not a Christian. What does it mean to “be a Christian” in the parlance of American Protestant Christianity today? Generally it means that you’ve said some version of the “Sinner’s Prayer,” you’ve asked Jesus “Into Your Heart,” and had a “personal relationship” with him as your Lord and Savior.

Huh. Well, I didn’t know the guy, but I’m guessing he didn’t do any of those things.

So he’s in Hell, being tormented for eternity by Satan and his minions, right? Is it that simple? Does 2000+ years of Christian theology and doctrine really come down to that formula? Does what you did in your life really not matter in the slightest?

Well, that’s an interesting question to think about, isn’t it. Most of us wouldn’t bat an eye at consigning a serial killer or a terrorist bomber to the eternal pit barbeque, but Gandhi? We have to stop and consider that one.

Generally I’ve encountered Christians who will answer that question in one of four ways. The first group will not even skip a beat, they’ll answer “Yes, he is, and it’s too bad. It just goes to show that you should accept Christ now!” The second group, the group into which I put myself, generally says, “I don’t know. Only God knows what’s in a person’s heart, and it’s his job to judge, not mine.” This kind of sounds like a cop out, but in truth, the Scripture tells me not to judge (Matt 7:1) and I would not presume to know the mind of God on this or any other issue.

The third group will be a group of what are sometimes called “Universalists.” I’ve got about 20 pages left in “Love Wins,” and I would probably put Rob Bell here. To the Universalists, Gandhi would most likely have been reconciled to God after his death in whatever way God chooses to do this. This position draws heavily on the voices of the prophets who throughout Scripture who consistently say that God is going to reconcile all of creation to himself. All of creation means ALL OF IT, every person, every plant, every animal. This position basically holds that death is not the final chance, that like the prodigal son, (Luke 15: 11-31) we will always have the chance to come home to God no matter what stage of existence we are in, yet it remains our choice whether to do so or not.

Then of course there is the final group who will just say that Hell and Satan aren’t really a thing, so don’t worry about it. My conception of Bell’s book before I read it was that he was probably in this camp, but as I said, I’ve only got about 20 pages to go, and not once as he said that Hell is not real or that our choices and actions in this life carry no consequences.

So where are you at, my friend? Which group do you fall into, or is there even yet another perspective out there?

Is there something “magical” about the Sinner’s Prayer? If I just say that prayer, but then go about my life doing whatever I want, to whomever I want, anytime I want do I still go to “Heaven” just because I punched my ticket when I said those magic words? Would I get to the Pearly Gates and smirk because St. Peter had to grudgingly let me in just because I said the words?

I don’t think most Christians see it quite that way (thankfully), but if you take that one step, you admit that the situation is not that black and white, and then where does it go from there?

Let’s come at this from another angle. What about Ted Bundy? Where is he at right now? If you’re one of the younger crowd and aren’t familiar with Mr. Bundy, he was an American serial killer who tortured, raped, and murdered 30+ women throughout the United States in the 1970s. Honestly, we have no idea how many women he did that to, but he confessed to 30. When I was getting my Criminal Justice degree, we talked a lot about Bundy. Bundy was first arrested in here in Utah in 1975. The director of the Forensic Science program at the time I was in it was one of the scientists who developed the evidence used against Bundy at his first trial. I know a lot about that case, it hits home.

I also know that shortly before he was executed in a Florida electric chair in 1989, he supposedly found Jesus with noted evangelical leader Dr. James Dobson. Dobson said that Bundy had followed the formula and been “saved.” Dobson took that cow and milked it for all it was worth, using it to crank out promotional materials for his ministry long after Bundy was killed by the State of Florida. I should know, I watched them in youth group. Of course many credible psychologists and Criminologists that worked directly with Bundy, some of whom I studied under, were quite confident that Bundy had played Dobson for a fool. Bundy was a master liar and manipulator. I will never forget in 2004 one of my professors said “The only thing Ted Bundy believed in was Ted Bundy. He just made that Christian guy his last victim.”

So which is it? Was Bundy’s death house conversion genuine or not? Again, I don’t pretend to know the mind of God in this or any other circumstance. I will say this: My God is big enough, my God is awesome enough to reconcile and heal somebody as evil as Ted Bundy. Nobody is beyond the grace of Jesus.

So that begs the question: Is my God big enough to reconcile Gandhi to himself even though he didn’t say the prayer or have a “personal relationship” with Jesus? Does the saving power of God lose it’s might the minute someone on earth takes their final breath, the second their heart beats for the final time?

Rob Bell says that his God is definitely big enough to handle that. I still have a few pages left in his book but I looked ahead to Chan’s book and spoiler alert, he takes an entirely different view on the subject.

And thus the Great Hell Smackdown of 2017 continues. Chew on this one for awhile, and then stay tuned for part 3, hopefully coming Tuesday or Wednesday!





Book Review: “Moses: In The Footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet,” by Adam Hamilton


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AdamMoses“Moses: In the Footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet,” by Adam Hamilton. Published 2017 by Abingdon Press. This review refers to the hardcover edition of the book.

So I read a lot, and I post a lot of reviews of those books here on the blog. Particularly I read a lot of nonfiction about Christianity, theology, and the Christian life. These are often some of my most popular posts.

Quite a few of those most popular posts have been reviews about books by Adam Hamilton. He is the Pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas, and his church has been dubbed the “most influential mainline church in America.” I don’t doubt that that is true for one second, and Hamilton is certainly one of the most influential mainline thinkers, speakers, and authors out there.

His books have certainly been very influential on my thinking as a United Methodist, and it seems like no matter how basic I find some of his books, they always still find a way to reach me and challenge me. “Moses” is the next book in one of Hamilton’s signature styles: a book that is an enchanting hybrid of biography/history/theology/and commentary for modern life.  Make no mistake, I’m not throwing shade at Hamilton or his books when I talk about them being basic. Basic is what Hamilton does best, and in my opinion it’s something that the church and many Christians need so badly. I’ve sat in many studies with people who have gone to church their whole life, who have read the Bible inside out, and still don’t realize that Jesus’ last name isn’t Christ and that the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles refer to some of the same sets of events in 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings.

I think our churches need basic, and as I said, basic is what Hamilton does best, God Bless him for it!

This book is an account of the life Moses as described in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It follows this great hero of both the Jewish and Christian faiths through his birth, his exile from Egypt, his return as a liberator, his roll as a law giver, his leadership through the Exodus, and finally his death on Mount Nebo. Hamilton hits all the highlights of the story of Moses and offers keen insights and commentary on living our modern Christian lives from each phase of Moses’ life.

Some of the highlights for me were:

How do we treat refugees and immigrants?
How should we react when we come into the presence of the Living God?
How do we look to God for support when we don’t feel like we are up to the tasks he gives us?
Are God’s laws just rules meant to keep us down, or are they meant to set us free from certain behaviors and ways of thinking?
How do we effectively pass on our faith to a younger generation without “forcing it?”

Hamilton explores these questions and many more throughout the book. It kind of feels like he strays from Moses a little bit during the middle of the book, but in return he offers a very well put together commentary on the Ten Commandments and how they still apply to our lives today.

Throughout the book he also offers an account of his trip to Egypt that he took while researching the book and putting together the DVD that accompanies it. He tends to sprinkle these little passages in just the right places, and for me, someone who would love to travel but has to be resigned to armchair traveling, these were the most interesting parts. I’ve been interested in ancient Egypt since I was a little kid. My first reports in school were often about Egypt, and I vividly remember visiting the Ramses II exhibit when it came through Utah back in the 80s. To this day I still have a fascination not just with Egypt, but also the Sinai Peninsula. I just can’t imagine what it would be like to go there and stand in a place where YHWH revealed his presence in all of his holiness. Of course, that can be a rough trip these days, and Hamilton says that he was only allowed to travel to certain sites with an armed escort from the Egyptian military. That was kind of scary to read, and I hope one day to be able to go there in better times.

All in all this was not my favorite of Hamilton’s books, nor would I say that it’s his best book, but it’s still really good and would be a great addition to your library if you like reading about Moses, the Pentateuch, the Exodus, or Bible History. It’s not meant to be a scholarly work on any of those subjects, but Hamilton provides many resources for further reading if this book wets your whistle and you want to explore further. I’ll be teaching it in our adult Sunday School class later this year, and I can’t wait!



The Great Hell Smackdown of 2017, Part 1


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IMG_1305Two books came in the mail today, two books I’ve been itching to read for quite awhile. I’ve read multiple books and done Bible studies by both of these men. Both authors have inspired me, challenged me, and convicted me. I don’t question the faith of either man, nor do I question their commitments to God and scripture. However, they seemingly both come at at least one issue from opposite sides.

The authors are Rob Bell and Francis Chan. They are both successful pastors and church planters. I would say that they both know way more about the Bible than I do. I would love to have coffee with both of these men and learn from them. What issue between these highly respected Christians is so important they both wrote books about it? The issue is: HELL!!!


OH MY!!!! (By the way, searching Google Images for that was FASCINATING. So many metal bands…..)

Anyway, yes, HELL. Specifically, does Hell exist? Also: why would a loving God willingly send people to Hell? Now here’s what I’ve heard about these two books. I haven’t read either of them yet, but supposedly Bell thinks Hell isn’t really a thing and Chan (along with coauthor Preston Sprinkle) does.

Now the point of this series of entries is not to tell you whether Hell exists or not. I have opinions, but I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not going to pretend that I do once I’ve finished these books either. I’m also not trying to threaten anybody with fire and brimstone. Look, I don’t know if Hell is a thing or not. Respected, knowledgeable Christians often disagree. If there is such a thing, I’m not in any way going to pretend that I know the mind of God on who goes up, and who goes down, so to speak.

But it is an interesting question, and it causes a lot of people no small amount of concern about their own “eternal fate” or the fate of their loved ones. I’ve attended and taught quite a few adult Sunday School classes over the years. I’ve preached a few sermons, and I’ve talked to a lot of people grieving the death of a loved one. More than once I’ve heard people absolutely break down and cry because they think their loved one that just died might be in Hell.

I’ve been somewhat flippant to this point, but this is serious. This question keeps people up at night. This question influences people’s key beliefs and behaviors. As Chan wonders on the back cover of his book “Erasing Hell,” can we really afford to be wrong about this?

A lot of folks think that we cannot, but perhaps a question to go alongside that one is: Is being afraid of Hell really a good reason to call yourself a Christian? I mean, if all you’re getting out of this is your ticket punched for the elevator that goes up when you die, are you really living the kind of life that Jesus desires from his followers?

So I’m going to read both of these books over the course of the next few weeks. I’m going to post some entries about how I see both of their arguments. At the end I have something of a big picture in mind too, because I want to take a look at how two respected, committed Christians can look at the same verses from the same Bible and draw two vastly different conclusions. I think that could be a lesson for all of us, and if time permits, there might be some entries about history and ancient beliefs as well. Now that I have a new laptop that doesn’t give me the blue screen of death (another kind of Hell, actually), I hope to spend some more time on the blog than I have been.

In the end I’ll also see if either of these books changes what I BELIEVE about Hell. Which means it might be helpful if you know I feel about it going in. You might be surprised.

You see, I am not inclined to agree with Rob Bell going into this. Yes, I believe there is a Hell, at least of some fashion. You might be taken aback by this if you’ve read my blog over the years, but yes, I believe that there is a Hell.

Now hold on, don’t unfollow me just yet. I’m NOT saying that I believe per se in what many Christians see as Hell: you know the eternal lake of fire, the guy with the pointy horns, and all of that. I don’t. I largely see that Hell coming from two sources, a literal reading of the book of Revelation and the overactive medieval imagination.

That being said, I do believe that there is some kind of Hell. Jesus talks about an “outer darkness” in Matthew 22:13, or as the Common English Bible puts it, the “farthest darkness.” Also, In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16, after the rich man dies, he is “tormented in the place of the dead” (Luke 16:23 CEB).

Now, I know that both of these stories are parables. I also know that they are rooted in the physical, historical, and political context of the day. They also draw on certain beliefs Jesus had about the afterlife as a Jew. These and other passages that seem to prop up the existence of Hell must be viewed in that context, as all of the Bible should be. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what Bell and Chan have to say about them.

An interesting side note to the context of these verses is that in both of them Jesus is referring to the religious elite of his society, not the so called sinners.

So yes, I believe in a Hell of some kind. For me the thought of “outer darkness” or “farthest darkness” probably comes closest. I believe that Hell is an eternal separation from God. God gives each of us free will, and we have to choose whether to abide in him or not. He’s not going to force it. If you choose not to be in God, then I don’t necessarily think you’re going to end up in a lake of fire, but you might find yourself somewhere where you are separated from everything God is: Love, joy, peace, security, and provision. You might be able to do anything you want there, but what would be the point if you cannot experience any of those things listed above?

So that’s kind of where I’m at. Will it change? I don’t know. Watch this space for my continued thoughts on this subject and these books in:



Some Good In The World: June 8, 2017


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One thing that I suspect a lot of us can identify with right now is the amount of horrible, nasty, disgusting, and downright depressing stories in the news these days. It seems like wherever we look there’s so much hate, violence, and bloodshed. It’s affected me so much that I’ve actually cut off most of my interaction with social media and news sites (which isn’t always a bad thing, my blood pressure has been down lately!)

So I’ve decided to try to combat this with a series of posts highlighting some of the good in the world. I want to point out some folks who truly go out of their way to try to make a difference for the better. I want the merciful, the meek, and the selfless to start getting as much play as the judgmental, the corrupt, and the selfish. This series will be called:

“Some Good In The World.”

And for our first entry, I would like to introduce you to this man:


His name is Noor Lucman, and he’s a former politician and clan leader in the Marawi area of the Philippines. Mr. Lucman is a Muslim, and while most of the people in the Philippines identify themselves as Christians, Mr. Lucman lives in the area of the country with the largest Muslim population.

This has made this area, the island of Mindanao, a hot spot for Islamic Fundamentalists in league with groups like ISIL. Well, last week the city of Marawi was attacked by some militants. Many Christians who lived there were not able to flee the city in time.

Mr. Lucman hid 64 of them in his home. He is quoted as saying that they would take them (the Christians) “over my dead body.” When the situation became truly desperate and they needed to flee to try to find food, Mr. Lucman helped them get through the militants’ lines by helping them pretend to be Muslim.

He saved their lives. Make no mistake, had these Christians been found by the militants, they would have been executed. Mr. Lucman is a hero, and we desperately need more people like him.

And that’s some good in the world!

(Information in this entry is from Reuters, The Independent, and Malaysian Digest.)

Book Review: “Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith,” by Rob Bell



velelv“Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith,” by Rob Bell. First published by Zondervan in 2005. This review refers to the HarperCollins paperback edition, published in 2012.

This review is the first post I’ve ever written that I know will cost me some followers. Somebody will take a look at “Rob Bell” in the title and instantly unfollow, or somebody will stumble across it through a link or a search, see “Rob Bell,” and think to themselves, “No way can I follow this guy!”

Rob Bell is perhaps one of the more controversial figures in American Christianity today. I’m not really sure why to be honest. Yeah, he wrote that book about Hell, and some people got mad. I haven’t read that particular book, so I can’t really say if it would make me mad or not. Well, I doubt it would make me mad, but I can’t say whether I would agree with it or not. But it is controversial. Some of us at church kind of mentioned the thought of doing a Rob Bell book in our adult Sunday School class and the reaction was pretty much: “How about….No.” Though interestingly enough our book club that meets during the week did actually read this one!

So yeah, Rob can be controversial. That’s going to make my next statement seem even more wild. I think EVERY CHRISTIAN should read this book. Whew, there, I got it out! Now, I don’t generally say things like that about Christian books. I realize that every Christian author writes a book with his or her own particular spin on the faith. It’s all somebody’s interpretation of things. The cool thing about this book is that Bell admits that this is the case. He admits that what he’s writing is his take, his interpretation. This book is his “Velvet Elvis.” It’s his painting. He compares the Christian faith to a picture that gets repainted over and over by each person or each generation. It’s going to be the same picture with same subject, and each person, each “painter,” is going to see things a little differently.

And that’s ok! How many different “Velvet Elvis” paintings have been produced over the years? Lots. None of them is the “definitive” Velvet Elvis, after which no further Velvet Elvises (Elvi?) can be made.

Is there a definitive view of the Christian faith? Well, look around and the answer to that question is clear. We have Catholics and we have Coptics. We have the Eastern Orthodox faith as well. Then if we try to get into all the different flavors of Protestants, we’ll be here all day! If there really is a definitive version of the Christian faith, we must all be a bunch of dolts because out of all the Christians in the world we rarely seem to be able to get more than a relatively small group of people to agree on it!

Of course we all think our version, our interpretation, our painting is the best, right? I mean of course we do! As Bell notes, if we didn’t think our version of the faith was the best, we’d belong to a different version! And that’s ok too! There are going to be differences.

Where we run into trouble though is when we say our version is the definitive version and everybody else should just put their brushes and pallets down, because we got it perfect. Which brings me to something that happened at my place just the other day.

I was getting ready to walk out the door to work, just gathering a few things before I went out to my car. As I was looking out the living room window, I saw a car that I had never seen before pull up in the driveway. This annoyed me, because I was on my way to work and the car parked behind my car.


Well quickly enough the passenger side door opened, and a man got out and ran to my front door like he was being chased by something. There was a knock at the door, but before I could go down the stairs to get it, I saw the man bolt back to the car, get back in, and then look warily up at my window as the car sped away.

I was wondering seriously what was going on. Did this dude just leave a flaming bag of poo on my porch or what? I went down and kind of cautiously opened the door. There, hanging on the knob was a piece of paper.

That piece of paper was advertising a new church in the area, and hey, I live in suburban Utah, so any church that is not LDS coming into the neighborhood sparks my interest. I knew that this guy wasn’t LDS because he wasn’t wearing the white shirt and tie, and to be honest, I’ve never seen a Mormon Missionary run like that, and I’ve seen plenty of them and count quite a few of them as friends!

Anyway, what was this new church all about? What was the message they were putting out there? Well the first thing the paper did is ask if I was afraid of burning in hell. Not really a great start for me. Then it said that if I prayed a specific prayer (you know the one), then I would be sure I would be going to heaven. Well that’s cool. I just pray that little prayer and then go on about my life in the confidence that I was going to heaven! Sounds awesome!

Oh no, it doesn’t work quite that way. If I prayed that prayer and wanted to go to heaven I should hook myself up with a “Bible believing Church.” This church was not merely a “Bible Believing church,” they are a “Bible Be-LIVING Church,” (Though it did say KJV only, just to be sure).

Yes, the cheese factor was high. I don’t mean to mock someone else’s faith. I believe that most people who look at Christianity this way are honestly concerned about the eternal welfare of others. And that’s fine.

But what about their welfare right here and now?

If I went to that church I’d find some core stuff that I believe in too. I would find that they believe in Jesus, that they believe Jesus died for our sins, that he rose from the dead, and that someday he’s coming back to set everything right. They would believe in One God, expressed in three personages in the Holy Trinity. Those are kind of the basic elements of the painting.

But there would be a lot in their painting that I don’t agree with. There would be a lot of things in their painting that I just can’t deal with anymore. There are things that aren’t in my (Methodist and fairly liberal) painting.

“Velvet Elvis” is Rob Bell’s painting. I quite like it. In his painting God isn’t an ever angry being just waiting to heap tons of shame upon his people. In Bell’s painting God is an ever loving God that wants us to be everything He created us to be. When he gets frustrated with us it’s not because he’s ashamed of us, it’s because he knows how great we can be and he wants us to live up to that. In Bell’s painting God isn’t poised over the world with the threat of hellfire, just waiting to destroy it all and start over, he stands benevolently IN the world through the Spirit working to RENEW it and RECONCILE it. We have a part to play in that as Christians, and just maybe that part isn’t to shame people and hold Hell over their heads. Maybe that part is to tell them how much God loves them and about how he wants them to be able to live life to the fullest, which is something Jesus expressly said he came to do (John 10:10).

For some reason, that particular version of Christianity is off putting to a lot of other Christians, though I’m not sure why. Some of us would rather spend our time standing outside of various establishments screaming, shouting, and telling folks that they’re going to hell. Some of us would rather spend our time playing at being the morality police and heaping judgment and shame upon our fellow human beings who were also made in the image of God. Some of us would rather point out how dark the darkness is rather than try to be a light in that darkness, but as Bell says toward the end of the book:

Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could be.




Plugging Into The Source: Pentecost 2017


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Pentecost1Then afterward
    I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female slaves,
    in those days, I will pour out my spirit. (Joel 2: 28-29 NRSV)

I love Pentecost. It would be a total understatement to say that I appreciate the Holy Spirit more and more with each step I take along the path of my journey. I remember one of the first times I honestly felt the power of the Spirit. I was a cantor at the big Catholic church here in Ogden, Utah. Yeah I know, funny job for a Protestant, but I loved every minute of it. But I digress. I believe I’ve posted about this before on some Christmas entries, but it’s still just a powerful memory in my mind.

It was toward the end of Midnight Mass. The Priest, Father Colin, whom I grew to admire a lot, was dressed in his hooded vestments and was processing around the church with the Baby Jesus figure from the nativity scene. When he reached the side altar where the manger was, he knelt, placed the figure in the manger, and as all the lights went out he used a censer over it to release the sweet smell of holiness into the chilly, spacious sanctuary. We then sang “Silent Night,” a cappella.

I felt a rush. I don’t know how to describe it really. It was not adrenaline. I’ve ridden many roller coasters in my time. This was something more than adrenaline. I would say that for the first time in my life my body and spirit both felt fully awake and totally in sync. I felt like all five of my senses were turned up to maximum, and I felt the real, palpable presence of the Living God right there, in that moment.

When the song was over, silence and darkness took hold, and it was like that power, that Spirit, that Presence filled the entire church. I was in awe.

And you may choose to dismiss that. You may choose to think that it was all just an emotional, nostalgic reaction to the moment and the music. But I don’t care, really. I know what I felt, and no one can take that experience from me.

And why would you want to take that experience from someone? I would give anything to have that energy spread out into the world and fill every human being for 1 minute. I have to believe that the world would be a different place afterwards.

I felt it again earlier this year while I was preaching a sermon. I felt that same power, that same awakening, that same presence. I’ve preached more than a handful of times in my life, but I never felt like that. I would not be so bold to suggest that God was speaking through me, my vessel is not worthy of that, but I would say that I could feel that I was saying what he wanted me to say. It just flowed out.

And it wasn’t just me. As I looked through the crowd, there were people crying. When I finished, people erupted into applause and there were even a couple of A-Mens! Now maybe that happens every Sunday at your Church, but trust me, it doesn’t happen very often at all in the older, traditional Methodist Church that I attend!

And you know what? It would have been very easy for me to claim that as my own, as a result of my oh so powerful preaching! It was tempting for sure. Before I ever began to pursue this local pastor program, I confessed to Pastor Gary that I have an ego. He said that the awesome thing about that was that I already knew I did and was facing it head on.

Oh, I wanted to claim that, but I cannot. That was the pure power of the Holy Spirit.

I do not doubt that the Spirit works, but when I think of those moments, those big highs up on majestic mountaintops, I sit back and wonder…..

Where is that feeling right now?

Why I can’t I feel like that every second of every day?

I have a theory about that, and my theory says that I’m not always plugged in. Let’s take a look at the book of Acts.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 NRSV 

Before his ascension, Jesus promised that a power would come upon the disciples. In John’s gospel, he talked about it as well before he was taken away to be crucified. The book of Acts talks about how these disciples, joined by a new Apostle named Paul, made these words come to fruition.

And what did it look like when the disciples “plugged in” to this power? Acts tells us just a few verses later:

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Acts 2 2-4 NRSV

That’s pretty impressive huh? Kind of makes my experiences sound tame by comparison. When the disciples received and plugged into the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church was born. The story says that 3,000 people believed on that one day (Acts 2:41).

That Spirit is still here, it is still available to us, but we have to plug in. A power source is of no use on it’s own, you have to plug something into it. Without plugging them in, the best equipped, most fancy appliances in the world do nothing.  What can I do if I am not plugged in?

It’s hard to say plugged in, for me anyway. Lord knows I try, and I think I’m getting better at it for sure, but it’s hard. I wish I could I say that I was the type of Christian that gets up every morning, kneels at the side of his bed, and asks for the blessings of the Spirit upon his day.

But I’m not.

I wake up every morning, put the alarm on snooze, and then eventually get up like a zombie searching for coffee instead of brains.

I wish I could say that I get plugged in and have God on my mind the second I wake up.

But I don’t.

I try to stay connected to God and plugged in as I go throughout my day. Some days I do pretty well. A lot of days are so littered with distractions, pitfalls, and temptations that it’s really hard.  I stumble into the house at the end of the day used up and weary.

But you know what I’m learning? I’m learning that even on those days Jesus is right there waiting. The Spirit is still available to me right where I am, and just how I am.

That’s part of the beauty of God. He’s still interested even when I’m at my worst, even when I haven’t been “plugged in.” And the great thing is, I can plug back in and recharge.


These and many others are ways that we can all seek to plug in to the Spirit and recharge. Spiritual disciplines can be an amazing thing. Even though they require training, we all have to start somewhere.

More and more as I walk the path I’m finding that these disciplines are doing a really good job of helping me out in between those big mountaintop experiences. Even though I need a lot of work, I’m still thankful for the ability to connect with the Spirit and the availability of the Spirit to me.

How will you “plug in” next?

As this Day of Pentecost ends, I leave you with a wonderful song about the nature of this power:

Feeding On Fear and Violence


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London1Just a little bit ago I was having a conversation with my mom about today’s events from London, where a group of terrorists killed several innocent people on London Bridge. Her and my dad had a cruise scheduled to London and around the British Isles later this summer. However, they’re both having some health issues and it looks like they’re going to have to postpone it. Mom was saying that after reading about the events today coupled with the suicide bombing at pop concert in Manchester a couple of weeks back, that just maybe it was good thing that they’re probably not going. In short, she was scared a little bit.

And you know what? I can’t blame her. After the concert bombing I found myself actually worrying about them going over there. I have to admit that I was a little scared too. A lot of people throw a lot of bravado around saying that if you’re afraid, then the terrorists win. Well, there’s some truth to that for sure. The point of terrorism is to inflict terror and fear. Fear is a common reaction, and my observation is that a lot of people who throw around the bravado have never had to deal with a situation where their life is actually in danger. I mean outside of military or law enforcement personnel, most of us in the United States go about our daily lives free from a lot of fear about our continued existence.

Fear is common, fear is reality. When we see the violence going on in the world fear can be a natural reaction. Then we want to respond to our fears, or have our government respond to our fears, to make it seem like they’re doing everything they can to keep us safe. Then we suggest a lot of things that we probably wouldn’t even speak about under normal circumstances. Maybe we want to prevent members of a certain religion from entering our country. I have heard some people say that maybe we need to develop an internment policy like the US had in World War II with people of Japanese descent.

But then….what about this guy?


This man is a known white supremacist, and he’s pictured here literally draping himself in the American flag at a free speech rally. Well, earlier this week he murdered two men and critically injured a third as they tried to come in between him and two girls, one wearing a hijab, at a train station in Portland.

Is there a difference?

All of these killers used an ideology of fear and violence to justify their actions. Both the London killers and the Portland killer did their deeds out of a certain sense of loyalty or patriotism. The London killers likely felt that they were defending their faith. The Portland killer felt like he was defending his country in some deranged way.

What’s the difference and where do we draw the line? Since 9/11 white guys with guns have killed many more Americans than Muslims have. Do we prohibit white men from entering the country? Do we round them up and inter them in camps?

I’m not trying to make light of things, and I’m not peddling a political argument. I’m honestly asking what makes us respond to these situations differently? I’m also wondering how we can respond to the both in a similar fashion without being destructive to anyone?

John has an idea:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18 CEB).

I’ve posted this verse before in response to these kind of events. You know what? It hasn’t gotten any easier for me to live by these words, to try to respond to my fears in this way. It is totally against our instincts to respond to fear and the violence that feeds it with love and mercy.

Yet that’s what Jesus did, and that’s what he calls us to do.

To be honest, it’s tough. Really, really tough. But perhaps through his grace every little bit of progress we make might help make the world a little better place.

This post is dedicated to all who have lost their lives to fear and violence in recent weeks. May God grant them eternal rest and peace and may he give comfort to their families and friends. May He bring healing to those who suffered injuries.