who do you love most?

Love.  God is love.  God loves people.  God’s people love people.  But what if believers love people more than God?  So much so that we let what would delight them checkmate what HE declares?

Last Sunday I alluded to Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins which selectively uses Scripture and church history to pitch an old heresy that eventually everybody gets to heaven.  He contends that’s as true for the atheist as it is for the Buddhist as it is for the repentant Christian.

Pastor of the massive Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Bell is a spellbinding communicator who has long been recognized as a marquee player in the emerging church world.  Looking at the world through Jesus’ eyes, his slick 10-minute NOOMA videos have captivated believers from all quarters of the church and across denominational lines.  

Committed to reaching people who need Jesus with Jesus, the emerging church has often criticized both the traditional church and the megachurch movement for neglecting the mission while being preoccupied with itself and its programs.  There’s some merit to the criticism.  As a church grows, by nature it turns inward.  The expansion of the institution claws for more and more attention to the institution instead of to the mission it was formed to carry out. 

Mission is good, but not if we love the object of the mission more than the Designer of the mission.  I believe Bell has a great passion for lost people but I think his false doctrine on hell typifies how dangerous it can be to love lost people more than God.  We’ll be tempted to take our doctrinal cues from people who don’t know God, don’t know or believe His Word, and don’t really have any inclination to submit to someone they can’t see or hear.  Especially Someone who seems so narrowminded.

What unbeliever wants to hear that unless he repents of sin and casts himself on the blood of Jesus Christ, he is an object of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3)?  Apart from the Holy Spirit convicting her, what unbeliever wants to give anybody the kind of authority God demands over her life?  If given a vote, unbelievers would clearly vote hell, judgment, wrath, and sin all out of doctrinal office.  Problem is, all those things would still be as true as they were before the vote.  And the voters would still be in as much need as before.  Really loving lost people means giving them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. 

Bell’s departure from biblical orthodoxy will not be the last time a prominent Christian goes public with his/her innovative beliefs.  In fact, as Christ’s return nears, we will hear more and more of this kind of thing–and, many will be duped by their teachings.  The Bible says so.  It’s why we must all be Bereans (Acts 17:11) and compare whatever’s being taught with the Word of God.  

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to heart.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  2 Timothy 4:3-4. 

[Here’s the link to Kevin DeYoung’s excellent review of Love Wins.  Get a cup of coffee if you’re going to read it; it’s 20 pages long: 

confessions of a pharisee

“I thank you God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else.  For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery.  I’m certainly not like that tax collector!  I fast twice a week and I give you a tenth of my income.”

In my lifetime I’ve come across a couple of people I don’t like.  Alright, alright, more than a couple.  Let me grab my shrink (a preemptive “sorry” to the psychologists in the audience; don’t leave mean comments) hat and analyze me.  Figure out why.

The bullies are easy; the boys who terrorized me with bodily harm in elementary and middle school.  The ridicule was tolerable but the idea of a beating or worse…  OK, didn’t even need the shrink hat for that one.
I didn’t like…, I’ll call him Stanley–the guy I worked beside who mocked the faith that he said I didn’t possess anyway (he was right).  He gave me other reasons to despise him: like opening his window when it was 20 degrees outside (I’m kinda cold-blooded).

I didn’t like a college classmate who was pompous and brazen.  “Look at me, look at me!”  I wanted to say, “Watch out you don’t break your arm!”

At church, I don’t like…  Ha, ha. 

Do you have people who rub you the wrong way?  When I do I usually justify myself, reasoning, who wouldn’t dislike this person?  She’s got an abrasive personality, or is unreliable, or is critical, or he’s overly sensitive, or too loud, or too quiet, or has sinned against me, or is two-faced, or is vulgar, or…

I was confident no one could recognize any inner animosity I had toward them.  Hating the conflict that tends to show up when a person levels with someone (“Hey, has anyone ever told you that you’re about as dependable as a snowman in June?”), I mastered the art of appearing warm and friendly to all people–even those I didn’t care for.  “I don’t love you, but here’s a smile for you anyway!”

Yet I was troubled every time I read something in the Bible like “be devoted to one another in love” or “love your neighbor as yourself” or “bear with one another in love”.  I’d reason, “OK, I love this Christian brother or sister, but God doesn’t say I have to like him or her.”  I may have been reasoning, but I no longer think it was sound reasoning.  Since love is a deeper and more selfless regard than like, how can I possibly love someone I don’t at least like?

I don’t have time to write what all God did over time–and is doing (the remodeling’s a long way from being completed).  And this story would probably be more fascinating and coherent if it began at a moment in time, if I had some epiphany, some “ah-hah!” moment.  Instead, it’s been a slow and subtle awakening, something happening over several years.  In stirring up a new passion in me for the gospel, God frequently reminded me of Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18.  I came to see that by my dislike of others (no matter why), I was the smug, self-righteous Pharisee congratulating myself for not being as bad as him or her.  It wasn’t that I didn’t believe I had faults; at least about some, I was painfully aware.  But suspicions began growing that disliking someone because of their faults may not be “normal”, not ok, not understandable even though wrong…, maybe it’s self-righteous.  Maybe behind my justifications is a conviction that what is wrong with me is not as bad as what is wrong with him.  That my faults are not as destructive as his are, my sins not as offensive to others and God as his are.

The pride of self-righteousness.  10 years ago it wasn’t a sin I would have thought made God’s top 10.  Nor thought it applied to me.  Now I’m convinced it’s in God’s top 3.  And the hidden root when I do not love someone.  It interferes–not just with me being kind, but genuinely loving that other person.  Someone has said that we don’t make great progress in sanctification until we begin to see the depth of our sinfulness.  Spot on.  I’m a mess.  And only the grace of Jesus Christ working in my heart through the Holy Spirit, offers hope. 

the grace of courage

After an earthquake and tsunami, Japan’s disaster saga continues to steamroll a grieving and exhausted nation.  A reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is nearing meltdown.  The building’s damaged, and with no electricity there’s no way to keep pumping water onto the radioactive fuel rods.  Aerial dumps of water have been somewhat ineffective with much of the water dispersed by winds.  Police and fire trucks have also sprayed water from the ground.
What leaves me in awe are the some 50 technicians who stayed behind yesterday as many others were evacuated, risking their lives in hopes of sparing Japan yet another disaster.  Because of the heat inside they are probably not wearing as much protective gear as those outside, yet radiation levels were at 400 millisieverts.  Most nuclear plant workers around the world don’t absorb more than 1 millisievert in an entire year.  
I salute them; that’s putting it all on the line.  As I pray for these selfless people I wonder about my own willingness to shoulder a great risk for others or my God.  Football great Reggie White used to say, “God places the heaviest burden on those who can carry its weight.”  Really?  Is it just that you either have the stuff of courage or you don’t? 
Studying Revelation we keep stumbling over bodies; people who’ve died for Jesus.  The great tribulation will be a religious bloodbath.  If my understanding of eschatology is correct neither I nor Christians alive before the rapture will be here to see it.  But it will be brutal for those who are.  

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  5:9
The dragon [Satan]… went off to make war against… those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.  12:17
He [antichrist] was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. 13:7
If anyone [Christian in the end times] is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed.  13:10

How will they do it?  I used to drive myself crazy trying to think my way through the question: could I die for Jesus?  Do I have the guts, the bravery, the courage, the right stuff with which to endure the torture, the sword or the bullet?  

No.  I think, at my core, I’m a coward.  Regardless of what Reggie thinks, God might still place this act of ultimate worship on my shoulders.  If He does, my cowardice will not be the thing anyone remembers.  They will remember the grace God gives me to face the call.  We are warned to stand firm in our faith (1 Cor.16:13), but here’s the backstage view: Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ (2 Cor.1:21).  May God likewise sustain those brave Japanese workers.

Is Christian “law” adequate?

Did you hear the latest from the jihad front?  Al-Qaeda is publishing a new women’s magazine called Al-Shamikha (Majestic Woman).  It’s a radical mix of interviews with proud widows of suicide bombers and timely tips on how to care for your skin in the sun.  It gives ways to get a mujahideen husband as well as how to wage techno-terrorism.  Offering something for every woman on your gift list I guess.

I realize most Muslims do not have suicide vests hanging in their closets and that many are chagrined at being lumped together with the likes of bin Laden and Pakistan’s Qari Saifullah Akhtar.  But many take pride in the thoroughness of their faith.  Who can argue?  Islam regulates every aspect of life from prayers to diet to marriage to courts to child-rearing.

On the University of Michigan campus in 2009, a Muslim student asked apologist Ravi Zacharias to explain Christianity’s rather weak code of life compared to the comprehensive codes of Islam and Judaism.

pray the news

“Hi, I’m Keith, and I’m a news junkie.”  I’ve searched and searched for a cure, a pill, an antidote but…  

OK, actually, I haven’t.  I don’t really want an antidote, and I don’t want to stop.  I love it too much.  Good, bad or indifferent news, I love it all.  I want to know what’s going on in my community but especially around the world.

Maybe this is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to redeem my sickness; you be the judge.  For over 20 years I have prayed the news.  As I’m reading or viewing video on the internet about the horrific tsunami that just hit Japan, I pray for the people there, for Japan’s leaders, for those who have lost family, for rescue teams, especially for spiritual responses from the tragedy. 

As my wife and I drove through Lancaster Tuesday we saw police cruisers barricading a block where a mangled child’s bicycle and a pillow lay in the street.  I prayed for the child I learned the next day was a 13 year old boy.  Riding into the path of a car he broke both hands and wrists, a femur, and received a head injury.  Thankfully, he was released from the hospital 2 days ago and apparently will heal.

Living a half mile from the fire station, I pray when I hear the siren go off.  When an ambulance screams past me, I pray for the person in it or the person who soon will be.

Disasters, conflicts, wars, accidents, life and death issues, politics…, even sports news can contain matters and people to pray about.  Of course, there’s one catch: you have to believe God will listen to little old you about anything big or small–even on matters you don’t know about personally.  He will.

Sister in Christ in jail

In a sermon recently I referred to Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian condemned to death under that country’s prejudicial blasphemy law.  Voice of the Martyrs describes her plight: 

Asia Bibi, a 37 year-old Pakistani woman from the village of Ittanwali, was arrested by police on Friday, June 19, 2009 and faces possible blasphemy charges.  Asia (also called Asia Noreen) is the wife of 50-year-old Ashiq Masih, and their family is one of only three Christian families in a village of more than 1,500 families.  Many of the local women work on the farm of Muslim landowner Muhammad Idrees, including Asia.  During their work many of the Muslim women have pressured Asia to renounce Christianity and accept Islam.  In June, the pressure became especially strong.

On Friday, June 19, there was an intense discussion among the women about their faith, with the Muslim women telling Asia about Islam.  Asia responded by telling them about her faith in Christ. Asia told the Muslim women Christ had died on the cross for our sins, then asked them what Mohammad had done for them, according to VOM sources.  She told them Jesus is alive, but Mohammad is dead.  “Our Christ is the true prophet of God,” she reportedly told them, “and yours is not true.”

Upon hearing this the Muslim women became angry and began to beat Asia.  Then some men came and took her and locked her in a room.  They announced from mosque loudspeakers that she would be punished by having her face blackened and being paraded through the village on a donkey.  Local Christians informed the police, who took Asia into custody before the Muslims could carry out their plan.  She was held at the police station in Nankana city.  Christians there urged the police not to file blasphemy charges, but police claimed they were under pressure from local Muslim leaders.

The Voice of the Martyrs urges Christians around the world to pray for Asia Bibi and her family.  Further, we call on the Pakistani government to insure that the rights of Christians like Asia are protected.

In addition to praying for Bibi, Facebook accounts have been set up for her and you can friend Bibi.  And we all grasp the enormity of Facebook’s leverage when we look back at the Egyptian revolution.