Home

After 24 days in Michigan it feels amazing to be home.  My own bed.  My own shower.  My own towels.  My own car.  My own drawers, closets, and easy chair.  It was wonderful to be in Michigan to care for Jan's mom, to visit our sisters, and to watch sunsets over Lake Michigan.  But, there's no place like home. (This would be a good place for an "amen!")

Being away from home can be refreshing and exciting.  It's fun to see different places, have different experiences, and eat in different restaurants.  Travel can be just what the doctor ordered.  But after a certain period of time, I find myself longing to get home.  I think that is one of the benefits of travel - it makes you long for home.  Home is where you feel safe, comfortable, and at ease.  You don't have to be up or get ready for anything...you just get to be home.

I've been relishing being home all day today, and then out of the blue it struck me that I'm actually not home yet.  Yep, here comes the sermonette!  The great theologian Carrie Underwood refers to this as our "Temporary Home."  There's a praise song with this lyric - "All I know is that I'm not home yet."  The old Gospel song put it this way - "This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through."  For the Christian, our earthly homes are temporary dwellings.  This is not our final home.  In many ways, we're just camping here.

My mind flooded with thoughts about what we call our "heavenly home" today.  Fresh feelings of being home in Colorado made me ponder some things.  First, I thought about the fact that in John 17:24, Jesus prays to His Father and asks that those who God has given Him may be "with Him where He is."  That sounds like the final home of each Christian - with Jesus, wherever He is.  We normally think heaven.  But heaven is such a difficult concept to grasp.  Most people have no idea or wrong ideas about what heaven is going to be like.  It's not harps and angel wings, I'm pretty sure.  But what is our final home going to be like?  What will it be like to be "finally home," as the songwriter put it?

I have some thoughts:

1) Being in our heavenly home will feel better than any experience we've every had.  I kept saying last night, "It's so good to be home."  But in heaven, we will say it in the way God intended when we were created - "It feels so good to be home."  It will be as C.S. Lewis puts it, "It feels like the place I was made for."  We will be more comfortable, more at ease, safer, and more relaxed than we have ever been before.  No fear.  No anxiety.  No pain.  No sickness.  No worry.  No politics.  Our bodies will be glorified, so that will play into it as well.  But I still think there will be a visceral human experience when we get to heaven that makes us wonder why anything else could ever have felt like home to us.  This is it!  I'm finally home.

2) Being in our heavenly home we will be consumed by the presence of Jesus.  He prays for it in John 17.  Jesus wants us with Him.  All of us have experienced rejection of people who don't want us, or don't want us any more.  In some cases, that happened to you recently. We navigate relationships cautiously wondering if people are going to turn on us or betray us.  Maybe we thought people wanted us...but eventually the truth comes out - they don't.  That hurts.  But try to wrap your brain around this concept - Jesus wants you with Him. In our final home, we will be with the One who died to save us and who loved us with a love unlike anything we've ever experienced from any other being.  I imagine a huge sign on the gate of heaven - WELCOME HOME - WE WANT YOU HERE!  Signed by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  That's home!

3) Being in our heavenly home will feel like a gift all the time!  One, because it is a gift.  Two, because we know that we don't deserve to live like this.  Three, because we never have had, nor will we ever have anything better - we will know that!  Jan and I have been blessed with our home.  She actually thanks God and me nearly every day for making it possible to live in our home.  We both feel graced by God to live in such a comfortable and beautiful place.  But in heaven, we won't have to dust, vacuum, wash windows, stain decks, paint rooms, scrub bathrooms, do laundry, or mow the lawn.  Talk about worry-free living!  

4) Being in our heavenly home will make what we did for the Lord here seem worth every effort.  Yes, I'm thinking of the hymn, "It Will Be Worth It All When We See Jesus."  We will not regret serving God, or giving to God, or witnessing about our faith, or reading the Bible, or praying, or serving others.  If anything, we will wish we did more.  I imagine waves of emotion when I'm living in heaven when I see someone who came to Christ through our ministry.  Or someone whose marriage was restored. Or a missionary who we supported.  Home will feel good because we will be rewarded for our deeds...and then, be given the opportunity to lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus.

5) Being in our heavenly home will be a blessing because we will be there with our believing family.  I mean our bothers and sisters of faith.  All of us who shared a common commitment to faith in Jesus will unite in perfect unity.  We'll be changed in a moment, and we will be united for eternity.  Our heavenly home will be a place where everyone knows our name.  We'll all get along.  There will be no tension in relationships.  We will relate perfectly as God intended before the fall.  None of us knows what that is like.  But just the idea of it sounds fantastic.  There will be so much joy, we will probably feel like singing.  Songs like "Worthy is the Lamb," will echo through the streets when we finally get home.

I admit it.  Right now I am very glad to be home in Colorado.  But I look forward to my final home.  I'm not there yet, but I'm 100% sure that it's going to be inexpressibly better than Colorado.


Honor Your Father and Mother

I've always been intrigued by the 5th Commandment - " Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." (KJV) It is repeated in Ephesians 6:2 -3 - "Honor your father and mother - which is the first commandment with a promise; that it may go well with you and you will live a long life on earth." There seems to be a clear link between honoring parents and long life.  Fascinating! The culture seems to have ignored this promise as few seem willing to make an effort to care for aging parents.

This is fresh in my mind because for the past two weeks Jan and I have been in Michigan spending time with Jan's 89 year old mother, Margie.  She fell while in Boston for a granddaughter's wedding and broke her hip.  She didn't make it to the wedding as her hip repair surgery was the same day as the wedding.  Needless to say this was a huge disappointment for her and for the whole family.  We all tried to divide our time between the hospital and the wedding ceremony.

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After the wedding was wrapped up, we were challenged to find a rehab center in Boston, as we were all from out of state.  Jan's sister and husband, and Margie, are from Michigan.  And of course, we are from Colorado.  Some day I will tell you how the Lord directed us to the Leonard Florence Center for Living in Chelsea, MA.  It is an internationally known center that specializes in aggressive rehab and innovative elder care.  After a couple of weeks there, Margie made such great progress, she was transported to a facility here in Michigan, where we have been for the past two weeks.

Jan and I really wanted to be here to assist with her Mom's transition from independent living to living in an assisted living facility.  Why?  To honor her.  I've been thinking about "honor" every day for the past two weeks.  As I walk down the hallways and see all the residents, most using walkers or wheelchairs, I have been moved to recognize the dignity of these dear aged people who never imagined their lives would take a turn like this.  I'm sure they all wanted to live independently as long as they  could.  But now, they are dependent and tied to this facility.  Every day, I ponder - "How do I honor them?"  I want to honor Jan's Mom first and foremost, but I also want to honor these lonely struggling elderly souls.  I have some preliminary ideas about what honoring these dear people looks like.  Here are some thoughts about what honoring your father and mother looks like at a minimum:

1. TIME

Giving time to people sends a message - "you matter to me!" In the two weeks we have been here, we have tried to spend as much time as possible with Margie.  She is fun to be around and has a very positive attitude, so we look forward to every day.  But several residents never seem to have visitors.  I don't know their schedules, but every time I see one of them sitting alone in a wheel chair in the lobby or hallway, I get a little choked up.  They look so lonely.  Yes, they eat in a dining room at tables with four to a table, but some sit alone.  This breaks my heart.  

Tonight, a trio from a local church came to sing for the residents and the number one thought I had was, "Thanks for taking to time to show these dear ones that you care."  By spending time with them.  They were only here for 30 minutes, but the joy they brought was priceless.  Main gift they gave?  TIME! I think you get my point. 

2. TALK

It's tempting to walk by people without saying anything as I walk into the facility at various time of the day.  I've been reminded that a simple "hello" can be a gift.  By looking at a person and greeting them, you honor them.  Of course, we talk to Jan's Mom.  She isn't a shy person!  She talks to us, too! But, ignoring people in the hallway or just walking by sends a message - "I don't have time for you."  We have had some very enlightening conversations with several dear people here.  I've learned about a mother whose daughter died of cancer, a farm wife who lived on a beautiful farm in Marshall, a doctor of optometry who got her degreee when she went back to college when she was 48, a woman whose son is a local sheriff, and we actually met the mayor's mother during a visit when the mayor accompanied her to visit Margie.  People matter.  Communication is a two way street.  Ask a question around here and it isn't unusual to get a long answer.  Today, I told a woman wearing a pink striped shirt and pink slacks that she looked good in pink.  She made it clear to me that she was sure it was orange!  At least we talked!

3. TOUCH

This one caught me a little off guard.  Think about it.  Who touches these dear souls?  Nursing assistants who bathe and care for them, of course...it's their job.  But who shakes a hand, gives a gentle hug, or pats a person on the back.  I haven't asked anyone, but I am quite sure that one of the great losses these people feel is the loss of gentle, kind, and appropriate touch.  Some of you have read Gary Chapman's "love languages" book, and you probably recall that for some people the main love language is "meaningful touch."  Like babies who are not picked up in orphanages fail to thrive, I believe elderly people need to experience being gently touched.  Jan excels at this.  I love watching her spread love and light around here.

4. TASKS

Elderly people need help with the most simply tasks.  At least, the tasks seem simple to us.  Get a glass of water, hang a picture, get a tissue, empty a trash can, make a bed, open a bed, do some laundry, get the mail, replace a light bulb, hang a calendar, open a bag of popcorn, cook a meal, and on and on it goes.  We take for granted the simplest of tasks, but for these dear people, the tasks can seem overwhelming.  Once again, it doesn't take much to help.  It may seem so basic to us.  But you can give support and care by being willing to help.  Realize that you were once in a situation where you needed help with pretty much everything...when you were born!  Remember?  Guess who did all of that for you?  The same person who needs a little help from you now.  Think about it this way - what a privilege to honor your father or mother by helping them in their time of need.  It's fulfilling, and even more importantly, it's biblical.  

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We love our dear Margie Salena Nicholson! More than anything, we want to honor her and bless her for all the years she has been a blessing to us.  I want to honor her for providing me with such an amazing wife.  But so much more, we both want to honor her because in doing so, we honor the Lord.

I'm not 100% certain about the "length of days" part of the promise, but I like the mystery in it.  Who knows how healthy it is for us to honor our parents and the elderly?  It's not only good for them, it's apparently good for us.  I close with a challenge - if you are slipping in the "honoring your parents" category, make a commitment to renew your passion to honor them.  If you're in the middle of an "honoring parents season," stick with it...you will be rewarded.  And if you need to apologize for failure to honor, take the first step and let God surprise you with His blessing.  Start with time, talks, touch and tasks...and start today!


I'm Not Mad At God

In the course of 40 years of pastoral shepherding I've met many people who are mad at God.  They usually aren't willing to admit it.  But after you get them talking, it bubbles to the surface.  They can't believe that God let this thing happen to them.  They assumed that loving God would insulate them from all suffering and harm.  They are shocked to learn that regular church attendance and giving did nothing to prevent calamity in their lives.  Like I said, they won't admit it, but they are ticked off at their heavenly Father.

Several side effects usually accompany anger with God.  Prayer stops.  Giving dries up.  Worship wanes.  Church attendance becomes sporadic.  Bibles get dusty from non-use.  What was once a warm and close relationship with God becomes a silent cold war.  Angry people know better than to reject the Gospel.  But they quietly harbor resentment towards God and they keep their distance.

These people remind me of the contrast between Job and his wife.  You know his story.  God blessed him abundantly and singles him out when Satan tells about his surveillance of believers on earth.  "Have you seen my servant Job?  There's nobody like him. He not only talks the talk, he walks the walk."  Satan smugly points out that this is only because Job has experienced health and prosperity.  "Take it away," says Satan, "and he will curse you to your face."  God says, "OK, test him, but don't take his life."

Job loses everything in a matter of days.  10 children, his business, his wealth, and eventually his own health - all gone.  Job's wife is mad at God.  She keeps it simple - Honey, "Curse God and die."  She invites Job to get good and mad at God....like she is.  She had it.  She couldn't stand to see her husband suffer like this, especially after seeing his devotion to God.  I've met many "Job's wife" Christians.  They just want to be done with the suffering and die.

Job refuses his wife's advice.  He calls her a "foolish woman!"  Listen to what he says in Job 2:10 - "Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?"  And then, in one of the strongest affirmations of faith in the Bible Job says: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him!"  Job is not mad at God.  He has questions for God.  But He isn't mad at him.

For the past year, I've experienced things I never imagined God would allow in my life.  I'm not Job, but my losses surprised me, as I'm sure his surprised him.  It started with a colon perforation and abscess that put my life at risk and hospitalized me for 9 days.  After a month of heavy duty antibiotic treatments, I came down with C. Diff - a highly infectious diarrhea.  I experienced a second colon flare up a month later and went back on antibiotics.  Eventually, my surgeon recommended colon re-section surgery.  Thankfully, the surgery was successful.  But at the same time as all of this, I was dealing with the potential of losing my position of Senior Pastor at a church I served for 32 years.  8 months after my initial hospitalization, I lost my position at the church and faced the challenge of setting up a "retirement" even though I wasn't retiring and didn't plan to at this time.  Since then, both Jan and I have had heart symptoms, including troubling chest pain, and been assessed with nuclear stress tests and other diagnostic exams.  Loss after loss after loss.

Yet through it all, I have not been mad at God.  I've been mad at God in the past, but not this time.  This time I've trusted God, even though I have been disappointed in people at times, I've never doubted that God is in this with me.  It feels good to say, "I'm not mad at God."  Here are some of the reasons why:

1) I've felt God's presence in the midst of my suffering on so many occasions, at home and in the hospital, that I could not doubt that He was working.

2)  God raised up hundreds of prayer warriors to join us.  Jan and I have felt it and repeatedly say, "Someone must be praying for us right now."

3) Nearly every time we read the Bible for devotions, we feel as though the Lord is speaking directly to our situation.  What amazing spiritual nourishment He provides.

4) The medical care we've received from doctors, nurses, and technicians has been stellar.  Some of them have even become friends.  God sent us who He wanted us to meet.

5) Peace.  Yes, the "peace of God that passes understanding" has been incredibly real in the midst of several crises.  The problems often remained, but peace filled our hearts.

6) God sent some amazing encouragers to us.  A card, a phone call, a text, a home visit, a meal, or just praying with us in our home - encouragement is alive and well in the family of God.

7) I don't blame God for our circumstances.  Yes, like Job, I believe He permitted them.  But we live in a fallen world.  Sickness and disease and relational disruption are all the result of the Fall, not some devious plan of God to target us for attack.

If you're mad at God, I get it.  But I hope and pray that my list will inspire you to eventually feel and say, "I'm not mad at God."

 


Father's Day stirs all kinds of emotions. Endure it or embrace it, though not all men are fathers, we all have fathers. None perfect. Some absent. Most cherished. One day a year, we cheer our dads and wish them well. God put it this way, "Honor your father..." (and your mother, of course.). So what does honoring dad look like? Some, in heaven, we honor with old photos and social media memories. Some, still with us, we shower with cards, gifts, and hopefully, some grilled meat. God established a role for a man, not only in biology, but also in shaping and guiding his family. Honor your dad today, if you can. And if you can't (I know the pain in some of your hearts), then at least pray for the faithful fathers you know and ask God to give them the courage and strength to be the kind of dads God wants them to be! Happy Father's Day, dads!

Father's Day


Benched

For nearly one year, I have been sitting on the bench.  God, the Sovereign Coach, decided to place me on the sidelines after 40 years of preaching and teaching.  

I preached my last sermon at my previous church on the final Sunday of June 2016.  Since then, I've experienced three hospitalizations, two ambulance rides, a couple of serious illnesses, major weight loss, atrial fibrillation, multiple antiobiotic regimens, home health care from visiting nurses, colon re-section surgery, prescription pain medications, CT scans, X-rays, IV lines, a PICC line, blood tests, nuclear stress test, cardiac ultrasound, and more doctor visits than I can number.  I've visited thousands of people in hospitals during four decades as pastor.  This time, I was the patient.

My health challenges were accompanied by vocational challenges related to my calling as pastor in a church I served for nearly 32 years.  The church leaders and I agreed to separate after months of anguished attempts to reach agreement on the future direction of the church.  In the end, we couldn't agree.  

So, I have been sitting on the ministry bench.  Uncomfortably.  I want to be in the game.  I want to fulfill my calling.  I love preaching and pastoring.  But if the Coach says, "PB, take a seat," you sit down whether you like it or not.  

Looking at ministry from the bench has been intriguing.  I've been observing the game without playing.  I have a few observations that might relate to some of you who are benched right now:

  1. Coach has the final word about who plays and who sits.
  2. We are surprised to find ourselves on the bench, but Coach isn't surprised at all.
  3. Coach loves all His players, even the benched ones.
  4. Being benched isn't necessarily punitive.
  5. Coach has a game plan that nobody else understands.
  6. I trust the Coach.

I'm hoping to get off the bench soon.  But that isn't my decision.  I ask the Coach every day whether I can go back into the game.  He sees me sitting on the bench, leaning forward, and itching to get back in the action.  But only when He says, "Hey PB, you're up," will I jump off the bench and get back to my calling.  I'd appreciate your prayers for wisdom and patience. #NotDoneYet

 


Back to Blogging

Six years ago, I discontinued my blog, after six years of trying to keep up with regular blogging.  One thing I know about blogging is that if it's not fresh, it's not read.  Life circumstances and church responsibilities were making it nearly impossible to keep up.  Additionally, I felt that keeping up with a blog was one pressure I didn't need in my life.  So, I stopped.  

During the six years of blogging (2005-2011), I received incredible support.  Regular readers provided regular encouragement and interaction.  I enjoyed the process.

I know the world has changed.  It's now a Twitter and Facebook world.  140 Twitter characters seems to be all people have time to read.  If a Facebook post goes much beyond that, it is skipped over.  Social media is fast-moving and noisy.  Yet something stirs in me whenever I recall my years of blogging.  I wrote with others in mind, to be sure.  But I also wrote for me.  It was a creative outlet.  It gave me time to process my own thoughts.  It slowed me down.  It made me more thoughtful and still.  I miss it.

So, with some hesitation, I'm going to dive in again.  After 32 years of ministry in Colorado, I'm no longer in the pastoral position at my former church.  It's not retirement, it's realignment.  I'm waiting for God to show me what's next.  And right now, since I have the time, I'm going to try to resurrect the discipline of writing in my life.  I'll see how it goes, and welcome any of my former or new readers to come along on the journey.  


REVered - John Stott Died Today

John Stott

Evangelicals around the world are mourning the death of John Stott, one of the architects of modern evangelicalism. Born on April 27, 1921, Stott became an iconic leader within the global evangelical church. He was ordained by The Church of England in 1945, after which he became a curate at the All Souls Church in London (Langham Place). In 1950, he became the rector at All Souls, and he spent the rest of his ministry life serving in that same church –over 60 years! Stott was a bachelor and leaves behind no immediate survivors (two sisters preceded him in death).

In addition to his pastoral ministry, Stott shaped many evangelical minds through his writing. I still recall the assignment to read his (1958) book, Basic Christianity, in Bible College. The stunning clarity of his work altered my understanding of my own faith in ways that continue to this day. Additionally, his magnum opus, The Cross of Christ (1986), and his Commentary on Romans (1994), helped me shape theological concepts and ideas with unparalleled precision. I also recall selecting his book, Between Two Worlds (1982) as one of my textbooks in a preaching class I taught on the college level in 1983 and 1984. This list only scratches the surface of his literary contribution, but these are the first four books that popped into my mind when I heard Stott died today. His writing was both deep and accessible - a rare combination.

Stott also produced a gold mine of quotes. I’m sure I’ve used a thousand or more through my 32 years of preaching. Here’s a sampling:

We must be global Christians, with a global mission, because our God is a global God.

I declare myself an impenitent believer in the power of preaching. The pew cannot rise higher than the pulpit.

Three basic convictions: 1. God wants his church to grow. 2. They grow by the Word of God. 3. The Word of God comes to people mainly, though not exclusively, through preaching.

We should not ask, "What is wrong with the world?" for that diagnosis has already been given. Rather, we should ask, "What has happened to the salt and light?"

Apathy is the acceptance of the unacceptable.

Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.

Every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it.

Good conduct arises out of good doctrine.

I call on all of my Christian brothers and sisters to remember the life of this humble servant of the Lord, and join today in mourning his death. As I read the headline announcing Stott’s death, my heart pulsed with resolve to keep his passion for preaching, the centrality of the cross, and the ultimate purpose of the glory of God alive in my heart and ministry until the day of my own death.

Thank you John Stott for your life and your impact on millions, including me. Thank you for starting well, and finishing well. Thank you for your unflagging passion for preaching the Word of God. Enjoy the eternal reward you so richly deserve…because of The Cross of Christ.


REVved - Celebrating 26 Years at Foothills Bible Church

You know how they say that the older you get the faster the years go by?  I feel that today.  26 years ago, Jan and I started as a ministry team at Foothills Bible Church.  It seems like yesterday.  I never dreamed we would stay in the same church this long.   I think we beat average pastoral tenure by a few years.  ;-)

Our first experience as Senior Pastor and wife was in Michigan.  That's home for both of us.  God gave us an amazing opportunity there for seven years.  I was 25 years old and had a lot to learn.  The church was in a suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was quite traditional.  They took a risk on me, as I was still in seminary.   In the early years there, we had such fun, I couldn't imagine ever leaving.  The best part of that church was the people. The worst part of that church was the people. 

What I mean is that we formed remarkable relationships in that community.  Jan and I made great friends, many who remain to this day.  Some of you will probably read this.  You know who you are!  You brought us unspeakable joy.  Thank you!  We also had some tough adversaries there.  They brought unspeakable pain.  I can't imagine they are reading this.

When it became clear that it was time to move on, we initially "dated" Foothills Bible Church, but the first time around, they said no to a "marriage."  God had some work to do on me. He also had some work to do on the church.  We learned such important lessons in 1982-84.  And in 1985, God said, "OK, it's time for you to go to Foothills now."

We have never looked back.  Sure, there were times I wanted to leave.  But no one called.  And then, there were times we wanted to stay, and inquiries came from three churches at the same time.  Bottom line, I always went back to the calling I felt in 1985 and resolved that unless it was as clear as that, Foothills was where God wanted us.  And so, we stayed.

I think of all the souls saved, people baptized, babies dedicated, marriages performed, hospitals visited, and funerals conducted.  I think of missionaries supported, members received, and buildings built.  I see the faces of hundreds of staff members who have served for varying lengths of time.  I feel the support of scores of elders and deacons who faithfully served multiple terms of service to guide the church family.  My head swims as I recall our initial annual church budget of $165,000 which has grown to over $3,5oo,ooo today.  From a little building on Belleview Avenue, we were blessed to move into huge facilities on 38 acres back in 1997.  Quite a journey over the past 26 years.

I'm not living in the past, but it doesn't hurt to look back.  God made Israel do it all the time.  He kept reminding them of His faithfulness to them.  Looking back can sometimes help you move ahead.  So as Jan and I celebrate 26 years at FBC today, I look back with gratitude to God.  In fact, I've compiled a "Top Ten Reasons Why I'm Thankful for 26 Years at FBC" - list.

1. God made it all possible and has never failed me - if there's any glory, He gets it!

2. My dear wife, Jan, supported me every step of the way...and still is!

3.  Thousands responded to the Gospel and said yes to Jesus here.

4.  People here really want to know what the Bible says.

5. This is the most giving church I've ever known.

6.  In my book, decision-making with an Elder team tops congregational rule.

7.  Though staff members come and go, God sent us several "keepers."

8.  This isn't a "me" church, it's a "we" church.

9.  The pain here continues to shape me into the man God wants me to be.

10.  Location, location, location - God wants me in Colorado, and so do I! 

No one knows what the future holds, but this 26 year journey at FBC has been a remarkable portion of the legacy of my ministerial life and calling.  Thank you, Lord!             


REView - Rob Bell's Manifesto on Love "Amends the Gospel"

The evangelical community experienced a massive earthquake yesterday with the release of Rob Bell’s newest book, Love Wins.  For weeks, the buzz surrounding this book was an ad agency’s fantasy.  Everyone wanted to know – is he a “universalist?”  The simplest definition of a universalist is someone who believes that God will eventually save everyone.  That no one will spend eternity in hell.  Everyone gets to heaven eventually.  I joined the interested crowd yesterday by down-loading Love Wins to my iPad.  I read until the wee small hours of the morning.

Here’s my conclusion. (Now you don’t have to read the whole blog to know where I’ve landed after reading the book.) Rob Bell believes that God wants everyone to be saved and he also believes that God always gets what He wants.  Therefore…everyone will eventually be saved.  “God’s love eventually melts everyone’s heart.”  Therefore, Rob Bell IS a universalist.  And that is false teaching.

When asked directly whether or not he is a universalist, Bell says no.  This provides keen insight into his methodology.  Every word Bell uses takes on a nuanced meaning.  You say “heaven” and “hell” and ask Bell if He believes in the reality of these.  He readily says, “yes.”   But the words don’t often mean the same thing to him that they have meant to Bible students and scholars for millennia.  Every familiar word seems to beg for new and fresh meaning in Bell’s theological world.  So, you have to dig deeper into what he means.  That’s why I read the book.    

There is much about Bell to like.  He has amazing stage presence and self-confidence.  He seems to really care about people.  He quotes the Bible easily and frequently.  He is likeable.  He is witty.  He has an agile mind.  He is a master communicator.  Every time I see him, whether in person (in Grandville, Michigan at Mars Hill Bible Church), in video, or in print, something in my heart aches to comprehend what he means and why he is saying the things he is saying.  I want to “get” him.  But last night, when I turned off my iPad and went to bed, I felt deeply sad for Rob.  I still do.  I don’t think he got it right with Love Wins.  And this is not a small miscalculation.  I kept thinking of the Beatles song, “All You Need is Love,” as I read Love Wins.  This seems to be Bell’s bottom line.  While I typically like Beatles music, they are very poor theologians. So is Rob Bell.  What he presents rises to the level of theological heresy.  I do not say this lightly. 

I’ve read some other amazingly comprehensive reviews of Love Wins.  1. Kevin DeYoung – http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-love-wins-review/  2. Albert Mohler – http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/03/16/we-have-seen-all-this-before-rob-bell-and-the-reemergence-of-liberal-theology/  If you want a full and comprehensive analysis of what Bell says, check these.  DeYoung’s is 20 pages long and will undoubtedly be my go-to reference when responding to Bell defenders.  Quotes abound.  If you don’t plan to read the book, this is a great “Cliff’s Notes” version.  Thanks Kevin.

As I wondered how to respond, I reviewed some of the things Bell is asking his readers to consider.  His style isn’t dogmatic.  He poses questions - at one count, 350 of them.  It’s like he’s asking the reader to believe that certain things might be true…things that you maybe never thought about before.  I’ve selected several things Bell asks his readers to consider might be true, and my answer to each is – “NO that’s not true.”  This is my format, not his.  His writing style is fluid and artistic.  Like I said, not didactic nor dogmatic for the most part.  Just pondering possibilities.  Here is a list of things (not necessarily quotes) Bell proposes to which I say, “No, that’s not true.”

1. That since the traditional Gospel story isn’t a “good story,” we need to replace it with a “better story.”

2. That heaven and hell are essentially what you make by your choices here and now, and not a place in the hereafter.

3. That "eternal" doesn’t really mean forever, it means an eon/age of time.

4. That God’s love eventually melts everyone’s heart and no one resists God forever.

5. That Jesus saves and rescues and redeems not just everything, but everybody.

6. That salvation is realizing that you are already saved.  Everyone is forgiven.  Just live in it. 

7. That Jesus doesn’t say "how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through Him." (My answer – FAITH!)

8. That the Biblical story is all about restoration and all the restoration promises to Israel are for everyone eventually.

9. That a God who can be kind and compassionate one minute and angry the next "could never be trusted."

10. That universalism has been in the “center of Christian tradition” throughout church history.

My answer to all 10 is, “No, that’s not true.”  There is so much more.  I chose to limit myself to ten ideas that came to mind in no particular order.  My bottom line is that I don’t agree with Bell’s ultimate conclusions.  Like many of his predecessors in liberalism, Rob says several things that are true.  It’s the toxic mix of truth and error that makes him a dangerous teacher.

Someone sent me a link to a video of an interview on MSNBC between Bell and Martin Bashir.  I’m sure you can find it if you are interested.  It’s only six minutes.  In it, Bashir accused Bell of “amending the Gospel so that it is palatable.”  He adds that Bell is trying to make it “warm, kind and popular.”  Good for Bashir.  I believe he is spot on.  The Gospel is an offense to those who do not believe.  Paul reminds us of this in I Corinthians 1:23–24 – “We preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  We know that the world is going to see the “story” of Jesus and the Gospel as foolishness.  What I find distressing is someone from the evangelical family suggesting that it is foolish and demanding a “good story” to replace it.  This happened with Protestant Liberalism in the 19th Century and sadly, I believe it is happening again in the 21st Century in Grandville, Michigan with Rob Bell.  


REVrant 69.1 - Rob Bell's “Love Wins” is Going to Rock Evangelicalism..and I Fear, Not in a Good Way

Like many others who have been following the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s newest book, Love Wins, I had suspicions and fears, but believed it wise to hold judgment until I had read the book, OR I saw a review by someone who had read the book.  That happened tonight.  I read Kevin DeYoung’s 20 page review posted on the Gospel Coalition.com website.  De Young has read Love Wins.  I respect his theological acumen and insights. And having just finished reading his assessment, my worst fears have been realized.  I still plan to read the book, for myself, but DeYoung’s analysis will inform and quide my thinking.  In short, it appears that this is a dangerous book from one of America’s most popular evangelical voices.  It will be interesting to see whether the label “evangelical” sticks after this. Here is the link to the extensive review if you want to check it out for yourself.    

God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins” – Kevin DeYoung.

As DeYoung puts it (and for those of you who don’t have the time to read 20 pretty complex pages), here is the gist:  “Hell is what we create for ourselves when we reject God’s love.  Hell is both a present reality for those who resist God and a future reality for those who die unready for God’s love.  Hell is what we make of heaven when we cannot accept the good news of God’s forgiveness and mercy.  But hell is not forever.  God will have His way.  How can His good purposes fail?  Every sinner will turn to God and realize he has already been reconciled to God, in this life, or the next.  There will be no eternal conscious torment.  God says no to injustice in the age to come, but he does not pour out wrath (we bring the temporary suffering on ourselves) and he certainly does not punish for eternity.  In the end, love wins.”

De Young adds, “Unfortunately, beyond this, there are dozens of problems with Love Wins.  The theology is heterodox.  The history is inaccurate.  The impact on souls is devastating.  And the use of Scripture is indefensible.  Worst of all. Love Wins demeans the cross and misrepresents God’s character.”

My final personal judgment will come after I’ve read the book myself.  But I can tell from this early assessment from a young theologian whom I greatly respect, that I expect to have a similar response. 

Be warned.  This book is going to create a huge evangelical tsunami, and God’s people everywhere must be prepared to address what this influential pastor, teacher, and leader has written.  Read it before you make your final judgment.  But when you do, don’t be afraid to speak up. There is far too much hanging in the balance to ignore this book.