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 –  2. Albert Mohler –  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 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.   

REVved - Steve Saint, Inventor of a Flying Car (The Maverick), at FBC This Weekend

Our annual missions emphasis at FBC this winter is iMissions: The idea is simple – use technology to “win as many as possible.” (I Corinthians 9:19–23)  We started last weekend. 

THIS weekend, we are honored to host Steve Saint, the founder of “i-tec.”  i-tec is the INDIGENOUS PEOPLE’S TECHNOLOGY & EDUCATION CENTER.  Most people probably recognize Steve’s name for his connection to the movie, End of the Spear, and the powerful story of Steve’s dad, Nate. Nate Saint was one of five missionaries martyred in Ecuador in 1956 while trying to reach the Waodani people. 

Steve and his family returned to the Waodani tribe in 1994 and lived among them, teaching and training them to become self-sufficient.  Among his more incredible accomplishments is the invention of a flying car, called “The Maverick.”  (Featured on CNN and several other news outlets.)

You can read more about i-tec here – ITEC - Indigenous People's Technology and Education Center.

If you’re around this weekend, join us at one of the services: Sat. PM 6:00, Sunday AM – 8:45 and 10:45.  Steve is also speaking at a Friday night event, but registration is closed due to high demand.

We are blessed to have Steve with us for this weekend and are looking forward to seeing how God will use his passion for technology during our second iMissions weekend.  Bottom line - we want to use whatever technology we can to “win as many as possible.”

REVrant 68.1 - Egyptians Ferociously Fight For Freedom

In violent scenes of Biblical proportion, modern Egyptian factions are throwing stones at each other, beating each other with sticks, and attacking from camels and horseback.  They are also lobbing Molotov cocktails at one another.  The pro-Mubarak and anti-Mubarak camps are facing off in a public square as the whole world watches.  And this senseless melee is playing out like a barbaric free-for-all.

 Egyptian camel protestors

With millions around the globe, I’m praying for peace and calm to settle over this region.  The political transition that seems inevitable does not have to cost any more lives nor inflict any more injury.  I may be wrong, but I suspect that the majority of the rioters on both sides are Muslim.  If so, it seems odd that they would not be able to find common ground in their mutual allegiance to Muhammad and the Islamic religion.

That said, earlier today I thought of the Biblical text that describes Ishmael’s offspring.  Genesis 16:12 – “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand will be against him. and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”  One can only hope (and pray) that these “brothers” will come to their senses and realize that they are only hurting themselves. 

We are living in turbulent days.  The Egyptian crisis is one more example of the volatility that threatens to erupt on a daily basis around the globe.  Free speech, democracy, and liberation from dictatorship are worthy goals.  The human heart aches to be free.  If only people in Egypt, and everywhere, would turn to Jesus Christ – He is the only one who can bring the freedom we all desire so deeply.  John 8:32 – “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” 

REVrant 67.1 - Osteen's Recommend Shopping at Victoria's Secret


The link above shows Joel and Victoria Osteen during a guest appearance on Piers Morgan’s new show on CNN.  The video linked will get you to the page.  This one is about "not apologizing for being rich."  The NEXT video - look below in th list on that page - is about Joel's recommendation that men and boyfriends shop at Victoria's Secret.  In it, the Osteens heartily recommend shopping at Victoria’s Secret.  Piers Morgan asked about it because Joel recommended this in a sermon to his whole congregation some years ago.  It appears that Joel was trying to get the women in his church to spice things up, and he said many of the men in the church thanked him afterwards.

I’m not a prude, and I am fully aware that romantic love in a marriage is honorable and undefiled.  But I found both the Osteen’s responses cringe-worthy, and sadly, far too typical of this pastoral couple.  Victoria (Osteen) actually said she wished Joel would say more things like this!  Rather than blushing about it, she was cheering him on.  Shopping or not shopping at Victoria’s Secret is not the real issue.  The real issue is that these two seem willing to do or say anything to get them a gig on CNN. 

They actually seemed to enjoy this silly conversation.  What this has to do with the Gospel, being salt and light in a decaying and dark world, and shepherding God’s people in these troubling days is way beyond me. 

Imagine what an encouragement it might have been to hear them confront the tawdry and salacious advertising the VS stores do in their windows, on billboards, and on TV with that cockamamie “fashion show” that airs from time to time.  

What women wear in private with their husbands should be a private matter.  The idea that a pastor needs to advise on this publicly, feels the need to encourage boyfriends to buy things like this for their girlfriends, and then goes on the record with it again on CNN is deeply disturbing.  This appearance (and there were more subjects covered) did nothing but confirm all of my concerns and misgivings about the Osteens.  Additionally, this was embarrassing to the pastoral profession.                

BREAKING NEWS - the video I referenced has been removed from CNN's website.  Good.

BREAKING NEWS #2 - the video was "moved" not "removed."  I stand corrected.

REVrant 66.1 - SAVE. PEOPLE. FROM. SIN. - Christmas 2010

During my sermon preparation for this past weekend, I kept reading Matthew 1:21 - "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."  Every time I read it, these four words burrowed further into my heart - Save.  People.  From. Sin.  This is the reason why Joseph was instructed to give this miraculous virgin-conceived baby the name Jesus.  (Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua - which means, "the Lord saves.")

During the sermon I kept repeating these four words.  I only planned to say them once.  But something grasped my heart and I felt compelled to keep repeating them.  Humanly, I think the reason is because I don't believe the average person in America today buys the idea that Jesus came to save people from their sins.  In fact, I think there is a growing movement of skeptics within the church, including evangelical churches, who aren't sure whether this was Jesus' main task on earth.   The theological idea of the substitutionary atonement is under siege like never before in my lifetime.  The evidence is mounting that people prefer a Jesus who set a good example, healed the sick, cared for the poor, and went about "doing good."  And sadly, at the end, he died.  But while he was here, these skeptics assert, he was mainly trying to inspire people to live like him.  To live out the Sermon on the Mount.  To address social injustice.  To hang out with people with the goal of getting them to like him.

I have huge problems with this.  Not because I think that Jesus didn't do any of the things I just mentioned.   And not because those things are lacking in value.  But my concern rests in the net effect - that the idea that Jesus came to save people from sinis sliding down the list...and in some cases, off the list completely.  This is troubling.  Certainly his name suggests a clear mission.  But he didn't leave people guessing about why he came. ''The Son of man came to seek and to save those who are lost."  TO save people from their sin.

How does he do it?  Simply.  All he asks is that we BELIEVE.  John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him would not perish but would have everlasting life.  How are we "saved" from our "sin?"  By believing.  Or as Ephesians 2:8-9 puts it - For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not of works lest any one should boast.

Don't get confused over why Jesus came to earth this Christmas!  His bottom line is unequivocal - SAVE.  PEOPLE.  FROM.  SIN.

REVrant 65.1 - Hated Christians

Hindu Radicals Attack Christians As Police Watch « Persecution News.

My sermon at Foothills Bible Church over the past weekend was from John 15:18–27.  The title was “Hated by the World, Helped By The Spirit.”  In the text, Jesus tells His disciples that they are going to be hated because of their identification with Him. He puts it bluntly – They hated me firstThey hate my Father.  They are going to hate you.

It’s a sobering reality for all Christians, but it’s real – we are hated simply because of our relationship with Jesus. Sometimes we feel it, sometimes we don’t.

I imagine the Christians in Orissa, India would resonate with this teaching of Jesus.  They are feeling it.  Read in the link above about yet another attack against Christians in India, simply because they are Christians!  And in this particularly egregious episode, the police stood by and watched as Hindu radicals broke into the homes of Christians and assaulted them.

What if this had happened to Muslims?  Or Jews?  Or homosexuals?  There would likely be a global protest.  But for some reason, hatred and assault of Christians gets lukewarm media coverage (if any at all) and in this case, the police serve as spectators. 

Jesus is probably nodding His head in agreement.  He knew this was coming. Please pray for the Christians in Orissa today.  And if you are a Christian, remember what Jesus said – “They hated me first.”  We should not be surprised.

REVved - November 17 is a Big Day

After months of blog-silence (you guys understand that “life” can get in the way of blogging, right?), I couldn’t let November 17 pass without some reminiscing.  The 17th of November is notable for two main reasons:

1. November 17, 1980 – My sister Sharon called me to let me know that Dad died that Monday morning.  After 6 months of battling cancer (melanoma), Dad was set free from all the pain and misery.  He was only 58 years old.  From my current age(60), 58 looks very young.  I couldn’t believe it.  In one sense I was relieved for Dad.  The battle got ugly at the end.  But in another sense I was defiant.  Not my dad!  Not at his age!  Not before I had a child of my own!  

But we all know how things can go.  It really happened.  My Dad was gone.  And I never had a child of my own. 

As I look back on the past 30 years I’ve wondered about so many things.  Particularly the things Dad never knew or saw: 1) That we moved to Colorado in 1983 – 40 years after he trained in Colorado (at Ft. Logan) after enlisting in the Army on April 14, 1943. 2) That we never had children.  3) That we served the same church for 25 (and counting) years. 4) Computers, cell phones, digital cameras, wi-fi, satellite dishes, GPS, DVR, Blu-Ray, Internet, email, Ipods, Ipads, iTunes, and Starbucks…you get the idea – so much has happened in the past 30 years.  Not only in my life, but also in society and technology.  And Dad missed it all.

And today, I miss my Dad.  On November 17, 1980, heaven became much more real to me than it had ever been before.

Dad and Mom Dad and Mom in 1980.

2. November 17, 2003 – Jan and I and a group of dear friends traveled to Cleveland, Ohio so that I could have a heart ablation to try to cure my atrial fibrillation.  The procedure was done at the Cleveland Clinic Heart Center by a doctor named Andrea Natale.  (Natale – means Christmas in Italian)  It seemed like I waited the whole day because the procedure was scheduled for 4:00 pm.  As my family and friends gathered around me for prayer, I remember thinking that this was the date and day – it was also a Monday –my Dad died and I wondered quietly if this was going to be my death date, as well.  I admit,  I was on medication at the time.  But I couldn’t help  thinking about Dad that afternoon. 

500 Dr. Natale and me at my 3 month check-up in February 2004.

Obviously, that was not my death day.  I survived the procedure and after a few months of fighting with it, my atrial fibrillation became a distant memory. 

As I look back on the past 7 years since my surgery, I’m grateful for all the experiences and blessings I’ve enjoyed.  I’ve done a lot of living in the past 7 years.  Having a heart problem changes things.  You value life and want to maximize the experience of waking up again every day from that point forward.

I’ve enjoyed 7 more years with my dearest Jan.  I’ve been privileged to see hundreds come to Christ through the ministries of our amazing church.  I’ve met many new friends and deepened my relationship with old friends.  God has graciously given me more time to serve Him and celebrate life as a precious gift.

As you can tell, just seeing the date – November 17 – makes me think. 

I hope I made YOU think today, too.