Friday, July 29, 2011

Growing Up Colt

Like many people, I became very impressed with Colt McCoy after he lost the BCS Championship Game in January 2010. Colt was the quarterback of the Texas Longhorns. Early in the first quarter of the football game, he was knocked out of the game after being injured during a tackle by one of the University of Alabama's defensive ends. His dream of winning the national championship was crushed.

In the nationally broadcast post-game television interview immediately following the game, Colt McCoy congratulated the winners, complimented his teammates for working hard to win, and expressed his disappointment at being injured and unable to do more for his team. Then he made a fascinating statement: "I always give God the glory. I never question why things happen the way they do. God is in control of my life, and I know that if nothing else, I am standing on the Rock."

It's fairly common to hear an athlete thank God after a victory. But Colt McCoy gave glory to God after a major defeat. His response stood out. I kept hearing portions of his interview the next day on ESPN radio. He had made an impact in his disappointment and defeat that others do not make in victory.

In Growing Up Colt, current Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy and his father, Brad McCoy, tell the story of how Colt grew up to be the man he has become. (Professional writer Mike Yorkey, author of an excellent book titled Playing With Purpose, also collaborated in writing this book.) The book is filled with stories of faith, family, and football.

As a father, I was impressed with the counter-cultural mindset and positive attitude nurtured in Colt by his parents. Colt grew up with parents who helped him to develop a strong faith in Jesus Christ, a commitment to high ethical standards (including sexual purity and compassion for others), and a winsome style of leadership which he has used to bring out the best in the people around him.

Growing Up Colt is a good book for anyone who likes football. But it's an even better book for Christian parents who want to be inspired to raise good and godly children who will make a positive difference in their world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It's Reality for Too Many People

I don't write as much as I could on the topic of urban ministry. Sometimes my experiences and knowledge of the topic seem surreal. Sometimes they seem unbelievable. However, they are real and true...and sometimes I need to write about them, because the process of writing helps me to think a little more clearly about life.

For the last few days, I've been thinking about the family at church who left their apartment last week because of the violence in their neighborhood. The overnight gunfire became so frequent that they were sleeping in the hallway. They were trying to put more walls between themselves and the gunfire so that they would be less likely to be struck by a stray bullet. Obviously, no one could sleep or function well under such stress. The family has left their apartment. They have been staying with other family members and church members until they can find a safer home.

Their experiences are a reality for too many people. And I need to remember it.

"Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.'
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and
speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday" (Isaiah 58:6-10).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Studying the Bible with Humility

During our vacation last month, my family and I visited Redeemer Community Church, a nondenominational Bible church in Little Rock, Arkansas. I have been listening to their minister Bob Lepine's online sermons and reading his blog for some time now. Although we were unable to meet Mr. Lepine during our visit since he was away on vacation at the same time, we enjoyed our time with the church. Our son Christopher loved it because the guest speaker was an Army chaplain.

A couple of Sundays ago, I was listening to Bob Lepine online as he was preaching through the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, a text focusing on the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the coming of Jesus Christ in power and glory.

In the introduction to his multi-part lesson on this text, the preacher presented the four major views of the end times: historic premillennialism, dispensational premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. He explained that your view of the end times will influence the way you interpret Luke 21.

Then the pastor said something that I found extremely interesting. He warned the congregation to hold their views softly, with a large dose of humility, because there is a good chance that you are wrong.

He pointed out that many biblical doctrines are very clear and need to be held firmly. For example, every Christian would affirm that Jesus is the only Way to the Father. "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'" (John 14:6). However, some biblical doctrines are less clear and more difficult to understand. Bob Lepine reminded the church that whether they chose to believe the historic premillennial view, the dispensational premillennial view, the postmillennial view, or the amillennial view, they had a 75% chance of being wrong. However, that is not an excuse to ignore difficult passages in the Bible. Mr. Lepine encouraged the assembly to wrestle with such passages, but to do so with humility.

I had not thought of it in such a way before, but I found Bob Lepine's advice to be wise. We should hold on to clear biblical teachings firmly, but hold on to less clear understandings of the Bible softly. We may be wrong, and we need to be open to correction.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Love is not Irritable

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Erasing Hell

In his latest book, Erasing Hell, Francis Chan tackles one of the Bible's most difficult doctrines with sensitivity and humility. In the introduction of the book, Mr. Chan writes,

"The saddest day of my life was the day I watched my grandmother die. When the EKG monitor flatlined, I freaked out. I absolutely lost it! According to what I knew of the Bible, she was headed for a life of never-ending suffering. I thought I would go crazy. I have never cried harder, and I don't ever want to feel like that again. Since that day, I have tried not to think about it. It has been over twenty years" (pages 13-14).

The author understands the gravity of the doctrine of hell. He understands that the fate of people depends on our understanding of hell. If there is no hell and he warns people about it, he could waste his life scaring people about a destiny that does not exist. If there is a hell and he tells people to not be concerned about it, he could lead many people to a horrible ending.

In this book, Francis Chan defends a biblically orthodox view of hell. He rejects all forms of universalism. He describes hell as a reality of the future. He teaches that hell is a place of punishment, not a place of purification. He warns that it is eternal. (Mr. Chan, however, does recognize some degree of ambiguity concerning Jesus' statements about whether a soul is annihilated or whether it suffers forever in hell. He sides with the traditional view that a soul suffers forever, but admits that the other side makes arguments worth considering. In either case, hell is a horrible place.) He acknowledges that degrees of punishment exist in hell, although the details about those degrees are vague. He teaches that faith in Christ is essential to being saved from hell.

Perhaps the best part of the book came in the fifth chapter, where Mr. Chan detailed some of the implications of the biblical doctrine of hell. Here are a few quotes from Chapter 5:

"Jesus threatens hell to those who curse their brother (Matt. 5:22). He's not warning drinkers or smokers or murderers. Jesus preaches hellfire against those who have the audacity to attack a fellow human being with harsh words. It's ironic--frightening, actually--that some people have written books, preached sermons, or written blog posts about hell and missed this point completely...Whoever calls his brother a fool may find himself guilty of hell. Have you called your brother a fool lately? On a blog? On Facebook? Have you tweeted anything of the sort?" (page 118).

"And how about Matthew 7, probably the scariest passage on hell in the entire Bible?...The most frightening word is many. Jesus says, 'Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" (Matt. 7:22 NASB)...How will Jesus respond to your laundry list of Christian activities--your Easter services, tithe, Bible studies, church potlucks, and summer-camp conversions? Are you sure you're on the right side? What evidence do you have that you know Jesus?" (pages 118-119).

"Or take racism. The Christian church in many ages and in many places has stood on the wrong side of this issue, and it's damnable--literally. What's racism got to do with hell? you may ask. According to Jesus, it's got everything to do with it. In Matthew 8, Jesus smuggles a warning about hell into the context of racism and ethnocentrism (the belief that your ethnicity is superior)...We need to see the glaring contradiction in saying we believe in hell while making no effort to tear down the walls of racism and ethnic superiority" (pages 120-121).

"And what about the poor? While Jesus is ambiguous at times about the nature and duration of hell, He's crystal clear about the necessity of reaching the poor. Yet many hellfire preachers are overfed and overpaid, living in luxury while doing nothing for the majority of Christians who live on less than two dollars a day. Contrast that with Jesus, who in His longest sermon about judgment made helping the poor a vital criterion of who goes where...There's a literal hell, and helping the poor is essential. Not only did Jesus teach both of these truths, He saw them as necessary and interrelated" (pages 121-122).

Erasing Hell is a challenging book. It's a short book with numerous footnotes. It will motivate the serious Christian to believe the warnings of Jesus and the apostles and to live differently because of what they have said and written. It's very much worth reading.

Monday, July 04, 2011

How to be a Patriotic Christian

Today Americans celebrate the 235th anniversary of the founding of the United States of America. It's a time for citizens to express our patriotism, our love for our country and its people.

Recognizing that many of my blog's readers live in different nations around the globe (some of which are hostile to the Christian faith), I have been thinking about how the Bible gives us some guidance in expressing our love for our countries and their people.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Pray. "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1-4). If we have a fair, decent, competent, and honest government, we are more likely to be able to live peaceful and quiet lives. We will be able to spread the good news of Christ with fewer obstacles in our way. Perhaps more people, even leaders within our governments, will be able to hear God's message more clearly. Perhaps they will respond favorably and join with us in following Jesus.

2. Submit. "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities..." (Titus 3:1). "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God...for he is God's servant for your good" (Romans 13:1, 4). Generally, when we follow the rules, we help our societies to function better. Anarchy and rebellious attitudes can bring societies to ruin. Our neighbors could suffer harm when we are rebellious against authority.

3. Go Beyond the Legal Requirements in Order to Do Good to Others. "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people" (Titus 3:1-2). A person can treat people horribly and not violate a single law in my country. The law tends to set minimal standards of behavior in a society. A Christian can stand out in a community by going beyond the requirements of the law, by being "ready for every good work," by refusing to slander others (especially the government's leaders), by avoiding quarrels (especially concerning relatively unimportant political preferences), and by being gentle and courteous toward everyone.

Whether a Christian lives in the USA, Russia, China, Nigeria, Iran, Brazil, or anywhere else on the planet, he can love his country and its people by adhering to these principles.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Seasons of a Christian's Life

"Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

"He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers" (Psalm 1:1-3).

As I read this Psalm, I noticed a phrase that I had not paid any attention to in the past: "yields its fruit in its season".

As I was considering those words, I thought about the pecan tree in our back yard. Every fall, we spend the months of October through December picking up pecans. In most years, we pick up hundreds of pecans from our one tree.

However, our tree does not produce pecans for us to harvest throughout most of the year. During the winter months, it is dormant. It rests. It survives the cold, the wind, the snow, the freezing rain, the hail, the sleet, and the ice. It does what it needs to do, but it does not produce.

In the spring and summer, our tree starts to grow. Leafs bud. Branches develop and expand. Pecans begin to develop. It starts to produce its fruit, but the pecans are not ready for the harvest. It still does what it needs to do, but we do not enjoy its fruit yet.

Finally, in the fall, our tree begins to give us its fruit. We are able to pick up the pecans and enjoy them.

A believer's life, according to Psalm 1, is much like our pecan tree. He avoids evil, loves God's law, thinks about the meaning and application of the Lord's words throughout his day, and lives his life according to his understanding of the Lord's message. He will go through seasons in which he is doing everything right; but like the tree in winter, he is not productive in yielding fruit. He will go through seasons in which he is developing; but like the tree in spring and summer, the fruit is not ready to be harvested and enjoyed. He will go through seasons of great productivity; and like the tree in fall, the fruit of his life has matured and has become available to be shared and enjoyed by others.

If you are a Christian who feels down because your life does not seem productive at the moment, you are not alone. We all go through it. It's biblical. Just keep avoiding evil, loving God's law, thinking about the meaning and application of the Lord's words throughout your day, and living according to your developing understanding of the Lord's message. Then someday, you will enter a season of fruitfulness, a season of harvesting as you bless many people around you. And the cycle will begin again.